Prayer to be Still and Know

Lord, let my ears go secret agent, each
a microphone so hot it picks up things
silent, reverbing even the hum of stone
close to its eager, silver grill. Let my ears forget
years trained to human chatter
wired into every room, even those empty
except of me, each broadcast and jingle
tricking me into being less
lonely than I am. Let my ears forget
the clack and rumble, our tambourining and fireworking
distractions, our roar of applause. Let my hands quit
their clapping and rest in a new kind of prayer, one
that doesn’t ask but listens, palms up in my lap.
Like an owl, let me triangulate icy shuffling under snow as
vole, let me not just name the name
when I spot a soundtrack of birdsong
but understand the notes through each syrinx
as a singular missive—begging, flirting, fussing, each
companion call and alarm as sharp with desire and fear
as my own. Prick my ears, Lord. Make them hungry
satellites, have your way with their tiny bones,
teach the drum within that dark to drum
again. Because within the hammering of woodpecker
is a long tongue unwinding like a tape measure from inside
his pileated head, darting dinner from the pine’s soft bark.
And somewhere I know is a spider who births
a filament of silk and flies it to the next branch; somewhere,
a fiddlehead unstrings its violin into the miracle of
fern. And somewhere, a mink not made into a coat
cracks open a mussel’s shell, and with her mouth full
of that gray meat, yawns. Those are your sounds, are they not?
Do not deny it, Lord, do not deny
me. I do not know those songs. Nor do I know the hush
a dandelion’s face makes when it closes, surrenders, then goes
to seed. No, I only know the sound my own breath makes
as I wish and blow that perfect globe away;
I only know the small, satisfactory
popping of roots when I call it weed and yank it
from the yard. There is a language of all
you’ve created. Hear me, please. I just want to be
still enough to hear. Right here, Lord:
I want to be. 


Copyright © 2019 by Nickole Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 24, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“One of the great tragedies of this digital era is we’ve surrendered our senses to our devices, severing ourselves from our bodies with our clever thinking machines and their little glowing screens. So here, in this poem, I’m grieving what my own ears have lost, craving the language of animals and their home. Feeding this idea are two books integral to my current study of human-animal relationships: David George Haskell’s The Songs of Trees and Jon Young’s What the Robin Knows, both of which make the singular plea for humans to stop and listen hard to what the natural world is saying. At the center of this poem is an attempt to revise a particular cliché I’ve heard in more than one prayer circle, a distillation of Psalm 46:10 that neuters the text ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ into a platitude of comfort that suggests one need only relax to let the divine into your life. What’s missing from that, however, is the context of this verse—‘to be still’ was no gentle suggestion but a command to stop fighting in a time of deep unrest and war—not unlike our world today, especially with such ecological devastation at hand. To me, the charge is not to step into nature to passively receive peace but to actively pay attention, and ultimately, to fight for something greater than ourselves.”
Nickole Brown