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Prayer for My Unborn Niece or Nephew

Ross Gay
Today, November 28th, 2005, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
I am staring at my hands in the common pose
of the hungry and penitent. I am studying again
the emptiness of my clasped hands, wherein I see
my sister-in-law days from birthing 
the small thing which will erase,
in some sense, the mystery of my father's departure;
their child will emerge with ten fingers,
and toes, howling, and his mother will hold
his gummy mouth to her breast and the stars
will hang above them and not one bomb
will be heard through that night. And my brother will stir,
waking with his wife the first few days, and he will run
his long fingers along the soft terrain of his child's skull
and not once will he cover the child's ears
or throw the two to the ground and cover them
from the blasts. And this child will gaze
into a night which is black and quiet.
She will pull herself up to her feet
standing like a buoy in wind-grooved waters,
falling, and rising again, never shaken
by an explosion. And her grandmother
will watch her stumble through a park or playground,
will watch her sail through the air on swings,
howling with joy, and never once
will she snatch her from the swing and run
for shelter because again, the bombs are falling.
The two will drink cocoa, the beautiful lines 
in my mother's face growing deeper as she smiles
at the beautiful boy flipping the pages of a book
with pictures of dinosaurs, and no bomb
will blast glass into this child's face, leaving
the one eye useless. No bomb will loosen the roof,
crushing my mother while this child sees
plaster and wood and blood where once his Nana sat.
This child will not sit with his Nana, killed by a bomb,
for hours. I will never drive across two states
to help my brother bury my mother this way. To pray
and weep and beg this child to speak again.
She will go to school with other children,
and some of them will have more food than others,
and some will be the witnesses of great crimes,
and some will describe flavors with colors, and some
will have seizures, and some will read two grade
levels ahead, but none of them will tip their desks
and shield their faces, nor watch as their teacher
falls out of her shoes, clinging to the nearest child. 
This child will bleed 
and cry and curse his living parents
and slam doors and be hurt and hurt again. And she will feel
clover on her bare feet. Will swim in frigid waters.
Will climb trees and spy cardinal chicks blind
and peeping. And no bomb will kill this child's parents. 
No bomb will kill this child's grandparents. No bomb
will kill this child's uncles. And no bomb will kill
this child, who will raise to his mouth
some small morsel of food of which there is more
while bombs fall from the sky like dust
brushed from the hands of a stupid god and children
whose parents named them will become dust 
and their parents will drape themselves in black
and dream of the tiny mouths which once reared
to suckle or gasp at some bird sailing by
and their tears will make a mud which will heal nothing, 
and today I will speak no word
except the name of that child whose absence
makes the hands of her parents shiver. A name
which had a meaning. 

As will yours. 

                                                  —for Mikayla Grace

Copyright © 2011 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Bringing the Shovel Down with the permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Copyright © 2011 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Bringing the Shovel Down with the permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Ross Gay

by this poet

poem

One never knows
does one
how one comes to be
standing
most ways to naked
in front of one’s pal’s
big sister who has, simply
by telling me to,
gotten me to shed
all but the scantest
flap of fabric
and twirl before her
like a rotisserie
chicken as she

poem
Was with the pudgy hands of a thirteen-year-old
that I took the marble of his head
just barely balanced on his reedy neck
and with the brute tutelage
of years fighting the neighbor kids
and too the lightning of my father's
stiff palm I leaned the boy's head
full force into the rattly pane of glass
on the school