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