The Latter Prayer – a poem by Brent Short

The Latter Prayer

It was another first step in a series of many;this time in the right direction, after such an unpromising beginning before it got any darker—figuring out not just where, but where not to go. — attributed to the author

During those walks 
through the woods, 
the air was growing
more and more nostalgic.
Leaves were swirling and falling
against the vast proportions
of a brooding sky—
sorrow and sweetness
in their equal parts fit 
the angle of that air.

Indistinguishable 
from any other the day’s last gesture 
passed unnoticed.
I heard a hawk directly overhead,
sailing, riding its own current.
I was lost but the hawk 
didn’t know I was lost.
You’re either on the trail
or you’re off the trail.

I was already reduced 
to guessing, immediately preoccupied 
with rescue, turning around in fits and starts,
reminded of how we’re never too far 
from bewilderment
despite all my wishful thinking
and flights of fancy 
offering up certain comfort,
as if I had been climbing all along, 
soaring up to that hazed moon 
popping up over the trees, 
gliding, sliding around 
above it all,
up in the phosphorescent air,
everything in its place
just so below, as I throw out       
an intimate little wave, floating past
that big, bent finger of light.

And then, 
in that same impossible space, 
searching for what I thought 
was already found, 
grabbed by a day dying hard,
marked off again by struggle,
more unfinished business,
the need for assistance.

Light crosses 
over from promise 
to shadow, the almost-true.
The slightest shift of air
becomes an aching, haunting weight,
a judgment of our powers,
the distance between 
where I thought I was headed 
and the landing.

In their dreaming,
a tableau of events from a life
that might have happened
but never did,
puzzled back together;
the purest cloud 
lost inside the shadow of failure’s reach.

And prayers?  
Looking up just as we’re abandoned,
initiated by the current crisis, 
frantic at their conception,
troubled, exhausted; 
others affording a space in recognition 
of their own emptiness and struggle; 
a clutching, then release, 
letting what happens happen, 
stretching out and a little further,
hands on the throne—
possibility availing itself
as a remote fragrance,
and I, lost thing, praying,
becoming prayer, 
the bliss of forgetting again, 
ridding myself of my own plans, 
each new step involving
not there, almost, not quite, revelation.

It was by that latter prayer,  
its extinction, taken up by its rhythm, 
its ardor, its lift and fall, its increase of peace,                                                
that I stopped worrying,
worrying about how lost I was                                                         
or signs of the search.    
                                                               
And with some increase of attention,                                                    
an effort considerably greater 
than my imagination would allow, 
seeing just enough
through patient endurance
and a slow certainty,
began to find my way out
of those darkening woods;
first, past a broken twig
and then loose bark
suggesting the presence 
and passing of living things.

During those walks 
through the woods, 
the air was growing
more and more nostalgic.
Leaves were swirling and falling
against the vast proportions
of a brooding sky—
sorrow and sweetness
in their equal parts fit 
the angle of that air.

Indistinguishable 
from any other the day’s last gesture 
passed unnoticed.
I heard a hawk directly overhead,
sailing, riding its own current.
I was lost but the hawk 
didn’t know I was lost.
You’re either on the trail
or you’re off the trail.

I was already reduced 
to guessing, immediately preoccupied 
with rescue, turning around in fits and starts,
reminded of how we’re never too far 
from bewilderment
despite all my wishful thinking
and flights of fancy 
offering up certain comfort,
as if I had been climbing all along, 
soaring up to that hazed moon 
popping up over the trees, 
gliding, sliding around 
above it all,
up in the phosphorescent air,
everything in its place
just so below, as I throw out       
an intimate little wave, floating past
that big, bent finger of light.

And then, 
in that same impossible space, 
searching for what I thought 
was already found, 
grabbed by a day dying hard,
marked off again by struggle,
more unfinished business,
the need for assistance.

Light crosses 
over from promise 
to shadow, the almost-true.
The slightest shift of air
becomes an aching, haunting weight,
a judgment of our powers,
the distance between 
where I thought I was headed 
and the landing.

In their dreaming,
a tableau of events from a life
that might have happened
but never did,
puzzled back together;
the purest cloud 
lost inside the shadow of failure’s reach.

And prayers?  
Looking up just as we’re abandoned,
initiated by the current crisis, 
frantic at their conception,
troubled, exhausted; 
others affording a space in recognition 
of their own emptiness and struggle; 
a clutching, then release, 
letting what happens happen, 
stretching out and a little further,
hands on the throne—
possibility availing itself
as a remote fragrance,
and I, lost thing, praying,
becoming prayer, 
the bliss of forgetting again, 
ridding myself of my own plans, 
each new step involving
not there, almost, not quite, revelation.

It was by that latter prayer,  
its extinction, taken up by its rhythm, 
its ardor, its lift and fall, its increase of peace,                                                
that I stopped worrying,
worrying about how lost I was                                                         
or signs of the search.    
                                                               
And with some increase of attention,                                                    
an effort considerably greater 
than my imagination would allow, 
seeing just enough
through patient endurance
and a slow certainty,
began to find my way out
of those darkening woods;
first, past a broken twig
and then loose bark
suggesting the presence 
and passing of living things.

Brent Short lives in Kansas City, Missouri. He’s worked as Library Director for both Park University and Saint Leo University.  His poetry chapbook, The Properties of Light was published in 2015 by Green Rabbit Press.  His poetry has appeared in Eads Bridge Literary Review, Sandhill Review, Tar River Poetry, Saint Katherine Review and The Windhover.

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