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Story Publication logo March 16, 2015

'When We Pray' and Other Poems


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Jamaica is proud of its religious tradition, but how has the Jamaican church responded to the...

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Multiple Authors
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Carrol Flemming. Image by Andre Lambertson. Jamaica, 2014.

Poet Kwame Dawes and photographer Andre Lambertson explore faith, shame, homophobia and HIV/AIDS in Jamaica though words and images. To view their entire presentation and full set of poems visit the Virginia Quarterly Review.

When We Pray

And these are the uses of prayer,
that earnest gesture of closed eyes,
so tight we see the bright darting
of spirits shatterings of gold
and red; after a while we no longer
hear the soft hiccups in the closed
room, and we ask that this will
pass, that this stone sitting
before us will pass, that this
rotting will pass, that this
confounding bewilderment will
pass. These are ways to stand
in the shadows, to see the open maw
to the grotto ahead, to turn to prayer,
to close away the demons,
to know that the eyes opened
will reveal a dawn and all
the wounded ones would have
walked away. I pass on to you
on a platter of petitions the secrets
I find too weighty for my satchel;
I pass on to you on the wings
of prophesy, the stones the stranger
placed at my door; I pass on to you
in the sermon's fire the burdens
I will not carry; and this is how
I lighten my load, and how
I can walk through the looming
gloom ahead of me. I am
the detritus of love, I am
the ring of dead skin after
a bath, I am the sticky remains
of spilled piss, I am the stain
that stinks up the room, I am
the author of shame, I am
the wounded, I am the wounded,
and I close my eyes to push
away the darting lights,
speeding toward the center of me.

The 1.7 Percent Remnant

The others have left us here,
a thin margin of our survival,
the simplest way to reduce
the rates is to kill in thousands,
let them die, and they have
died, they have fought hard,
lingered on, pushing back,
and then given up—watch them,
backs to us, stepping into
the muck of trees, and now
we, the remnant, the stragglers
are left behind. This is the holiness
of the obsolete, the survivors
filled with the guilt of the chosen—
and they forget us, we are shadows
now, we are walking ghosts, we
are the offense—not pitiable
enough for horror, fear, and mercy;
so pilgrimage to the open
lots where the rotten
carcasses are circled by John
Crows, and dragged, to that place of
macka and weed and city detritus,
where they have left only rockstones
piled upon rockstones as the marker
of those who have gone—and we
who linger, we are the offense,
we have nothing to say,
we whisper in the back pews,
we are the last of it, it is
because of us that the perfection
of zeroes cannot be achieved,
and our woes are vanities they say.
and this is the light that embraces
the left behind, the remnant,
we are 1.8,
we are 1.7,
we are the last pin prick
under the skin, and for this
we feel the sorrow of orphans;
like the sons of that woman
a week ago, who for no
rhymed reason, slit her wrist
and hung herself until she
was dead—and we are like her
children, wondering what
we did in this life to earn such care.



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