I love Marie Howe’s poem “Prayer” because it is so honest, such a keen portrayal of how things go when I try to pray. Before I get out of bed, I begin a conversation with the Big Guy and get as far as Good morning, God before taking stock of the weather and deciding it will be a good day to hang laundry outside. After chucking a load of towels into the washing machine and feeding the dogs and cat, I head to my desk and flip open my daily devotional to the correct page. Before I can read a paragraph, I notice my iPhone is blinking. I can’t remember if I took my thyroid pill. Uh-oh, nature’s calling. And so on. When my car’s starter began futzing, I was reminded to say a prayer every time I turned the key. On days God missed me, He’d make me sweat it out—five or ten tries—before letting the engine turn over. Three months later, it died completely. God’s advice? For heaven’s sake, Joan, are you expecting me to resurrect it? Get this thing to the mechanic! Which I sheepishly did, saving us both a lot of time and hassle. When praying for others, I make an effort to get to the point quickly, before my mind goes off on
a… oh yeah, a tangent. At bedtime, with the best of intentions, I start off Good night, God and the next thing I know, it’s 3 am and the dog is snoring, curled up in the hollow behind my knees. Even in His infinite patience, God must roll his eyes and heave a giant sigh now and then.
Last year, one of my class assignments was to take a poem I love and change its tense, person, and point of view. Don’t simply change the pronouns and verbs, the instructions said, really revise it. It was a fun exercise, one I highly recommend. Perhaps the best thing about being
a writer is creative license, permission to tell the story from whatever perspective you wish. So, here’s the original by Marie Howe, followed by my own version, written in future tense from God’s point of view:
by Marie Howe
Every day I want to speak with you.
And every day something more important
calls for my attention–
the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage
I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here
among the falling piles of paper and clothing,
the garbage trucks outside already screeching and banging.
The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?
My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.
Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.
I’LL BET YOU ANYTHING
by Joan Harris
I’ll bet you anything,
she’s going to say she wants to speak with me and suddenly,
another more important issue will come up
Some silly thing will grab her attention
Her mind will wander to the drug store or her beauty products
or the luggage she needs to buy for her trip
Sitting amid teetering piles of papers and clothing
as the garbage truck screeches and bangs outside her window,
she will wonder why she can hardly sit still
She may recall the words of the mystics
and acknowledge that I am nearby, as close as her own breath,
even as her thoughts drift away from me
If only she could keep her prayerful focus,
I would listen to her litany of complaints and fill her emptiness
with meaning, her life with tales worth telling
But I’ll bet you anything,
she will cry out for help, get sidetracked, and rise from that chair
before I reach the end of this sentence
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