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A Blasphemy

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You wouldn't have believed it, how
the man, a little touched perhaps,

set his hands together and prayed
for happiness, yet not his own;

he meant his people, by which he meant
not people really, but trees and cows,

the dirty horses, dogs, the fox
who lived at the back of his place with her kits,

and the very night who settled down
to rock his place to sleep, the place

he tried so hard to tend he found
he mended fences in his sleep.

He said to the you above, who, let's
be honest, doesn't say too much,

I need you now up there to give
my people happiness, you let

them smile and know the reason; hear
my prayer, Old Yam. The you who's you

might laugh at that, and I agree,
it's funny to make a prayer like that,

the down-home words and yonder reach
of what he said; and calling God

the Elder Sweet Potato, shucks,
that's pretty funny, and kind of sad.

Source: Poetry (May 2007)

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This poem originally appeared in the May 2007 issue of Poetry magazine

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A Blasphemy

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  • Poet Maurice Manning was born and raised in Kentucky, and often writes about the land and culture of his home. Maurice Manning’s first book of poems, Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions (2001) was chosen by poet and judge W.S. Merwin for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. His subsequent books include A Companion for Owls: Being the Commonplace Book of D. Boone, Lone Hunter, Back Woodsman, &c. (2004), Bucolics (2007), The Common Man (2010), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, and The Gone and the Going Away (2013).
    Manning grew up listening to stories of his father’s childhood spent on a farm in Eastern Kentucky and has been inspired by the lives of his grandmothers, great grandmothers, and a great-great-grandmother. Inventive and historical, his work reflects his heritage and a respect for the natural world. W.S. Merwin wrote of Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions: “The writing's...

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