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A Prayer (standard:poetry, 758 words)
Author: K.J.Added: Feb 08 2001Views/Reads: 2143/0Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
poem inspired by a talk with poet/teacher Joseph Lease on the campus of Central Michigan University
 



(copyright 2001 by K. Stevens Jr.) 

A Prayer 

Standing in the midst of a campus colored with dying leaves and fresh
faced coeds in solid-print Old Navy sweaters, Joseph Lease and I sipped 
hazelnut flavored coffee topped with cream. I remember him breathing- 
his words and breath all nutty and vaporizing in the November cold. He 
was telling me I ought to read Roethke. 

Weeks passed. Faces had become red, down-turned and beaten by blowing
snow. The bodies had bulked on layers; fashion succumbed to cold. I was 
poking around the University's Coffeehouse-Bookstore killing time after 
Creative Writing Class when I passed this table of "literary types". 
They were discussing Camus. 

Brilliant minds, really... discussing their "contentions", their
"feelings", their "insights"... repeating shit even I had read in 
required textbooks, or heard from noble professors. I wanted to walk up 
and kick their table over so then they'd really have something to 
discuss. I felt like fighting them, but stood and stared instead. 
Confrontation would only cause them to sit around another table, I 
thought. They'd sit and smoke, evaluate and critique, then draft it all 
into a concise and profound letter to the editor- one clearly depicting 
the Human Condition. 

One of the brains saved the lot though, because he was drinking hazelnut
coffee and the smell of it got me thinking of the time I was standing 
with Joe Lease in November, when he was going on about Roethke. His 
words and breath vaporized before me as I nodded at him, but my focus 
was on this black-haired dame from my writing class as she bounced 
across the courtyard. 

Her name was Beatrice and I liked her because she wrote stories better
than anyone I had known. I had even told her so one day after class as 
my heart jackhammered away at my insides. 

"You write like Margaret Atwood," I said, "hell, maybe even better." 

We became friends shortly after that, then lovers, then I lost her one
night at a bar to a group of fellas that called themselves Sig Eps. Her 
story was dragged out all over the school paper in bits and pieces like 
an awful made-for-t.v. movie. She'd been raped by four fraternity 
brothers. 

After reading about all of it I ended up feeling responsible so I called
her lake-front Traverse City home to apologize. The voice that answered 
sounded like her, but said that Beatty had gone out for the evening. I 
wondered if she was at the pub, grieving. 

The scent of the kid's hazelnut coffee tugged and pulled me through
memory and thought but ended up pushing me to the POETRY section of the 
store where I found "The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke" packed in 
between a bunch of other poets I'd never read. The cover was lavender 
with a flower. The opening "NOTE" had been written by his wife. Her 
name was Beatrice. I questioned coincidence, as I slid the book into my 
coat pocket, then walked out past the great, frothing minds of the 
future betting at least one of them would grow up to be a critic. 

When I got home I put the book on the floor near my bed and forgot about
Roethke, Beatrice, coffee and Lease. I decided I would push my way 
through the seasons working and writing, drinking and fighting, and in 
the end, I knew that everything would be done. 

But then tonight, home after the pub, drunk from trying to forget
everything I would not be, I rolled over to the edge of my bed and 
heaved and heaved. The hot rush, the sudden release, startled me 
because by God, I thought my creative mind had trained my body better! 
When I turned on the light and saw my bloody, milky insides thick and 
wet on the carpet, and on Roethke's poetry- my Bible that I'd planned 
to read each night before I died- I felt hollow and empty because I 
knew I'd taken to letting the world down. 

Tonight, feeling broken and bound to nothing, I found myself in the tub,
half-buzzed, reading the words of the Saginaw man. 

"A dark theme keeps me here...." 

Awash in hot water, fingering dead, wet pages with shaky fingers, I read
what was written 

"...I'll make a broken music, or I'll die." 

and I began to fill up again. Suddenly, I felt I'd come to the end of a
long, hard prayer and I began to remember what I'd lost. It felt good, 
like the peacefulness of saying Amen. 


   


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