Prayer for My Unborn Niece or Nephew

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

More by Ross Gay

For Some Slight I Can't Quite Recall

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 bus and did so with the eagle of justice
screaming in my ear as he always does
for the irate and stupid I made the window sing
and bend and the skinny boy too
whose eyes grew to lakes lit by mortar fire
bleating with his glasses crooked
I'm not an animal walking in place
on the green vinyl seat looking far away
and me watching him and probably almost smiling
at the song and dance I made of the weak
and skinny boy who towering above me
became even smaller and bizarre and birdlike
pinned and beating his wings frantically
against his cage and me probably
almost smiling as is the way of the stupid
and cruel watching the weak and small
and innocent not getting away.

To My Best Friend's Big Sister

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
observes
and offers thoughtful critique
of my just
pubescent physique
which is not
a thing
to behold
what with my damp trunks
clinging to
my damp crotch
and proportion and grace
are words the definition
of which I don’t yet know
nor did I ask the
the mini-skirted scientist
sitting open-legged
and now shoeless
on my mom’s couch
though it may have been
this morning
while chucking papers
I heard through the Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock
pulsing my walkman
a mourning
dove struggling
snared in the downspout’s
mouth and without
lowering the volume
or missing a verse
I crinkled the rusted aluminum
trap enough that with
a little wriggle
it was free
and did not
at once
wobble to some
powerline but sat on my hand
and looked at me
for at least
one verse of “It Takes Two”
sort of bobbing
its head
and cooing once or twice
before flopping off
but that seems very long ago
now
as I pirouette
my hairless and shivering
warble of acne and pudge
burning a hole
in the rug as big sis tosses off
Greek and Latin words
like pectorals and
gluteus maximus
standing to show me
what she means
with her hands on my love
handles and now
I can see myself
trying to add some gaudy flourish
to this memory
to make of it
a fantasy
which is why I linger
hoping to mis-recall
the child
me
make of me
someone I wasn’t
make of this
experience the beginning
of a new life
gilded doors
kicked open blaring
trombones a full
beard Isaac Hayes singing in the background
and me thundering forth
on the wild steed
of emergent manhood
but I think this child was not
that child
obscuring, as he was, his breasts
by tucking his hands
into his armpits
and having never even made love
to himself
yet was not
really a candidate for much
besides the chill
of a minor shame
that he would forget for 15 years
one of what would prove
to be many
such shames
stitched together like a quilt
with all its just legible
patterning which could be a thing
heavy and warm
to be buried in
or instead might be held up
to the light
where we see the threads
barely holding
so human and frail
so beautiful and sad and small
from this remove.

To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian

Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
looking up
the racket in
the lugwork probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a
broom beneath
which you are now
too the canopy
of a fig its
arms pulling the
September sun to it
and she
has a hose too
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
the walk
lest some poor sod
slip on the
silk of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the perpetrator
the light catches
the veins in her hands
when I ask about
the tree they
flutter in the air and
she says take
as much as
you can
help me
so I load my
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a
sack so my meager
plunder would have to
suffice and an old woman
whom gravity
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth and soon there were
eight or nine
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a
constellation pointing
do you see it
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even
told me so
when I grabbed three
or four for
him reaching into the
giddy throngs of
yellow-jackets sugar
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach
like there was a baby
in there
it was hot his
head shone while he
offered recipes to the
group using words which
I couldn’t understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night
and maybe
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me
figs and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and calls
baby, c’mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
being Mediterranean
and favoring the rocky, sun-baked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty
forearm into someone else’s
sweaty shoulder
gleeful eating out of each other’s hands
on Christian St.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own
people
this is true
we are feeding each other
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
strangers maybe
never again.