The Maynard
Spring 2016

Esther McPhee

Prayer For Our Past Selves

This year your birthday happens in absence
while I am looking back
over my shoulder at our two figures,
feet sunk in the mud of the river bank.
Lord, whatever you are, scatter
language over me like salt.
I'm trying to find a way to tell
those kids that they won't become
who they think they will—
people more extraordinary than us.
They'll simply carry on being themselves.
Days move us closer to more days
until there is a catalogue of mornings behind us
and we are done. This year
a friend dies on my birthday
and I go to the water to say goodbye,
though he is not at the water,
not even in this city. Lord,
wherever you are, help me
make this strange translation
through time. That now an ocean
away from you I am still a body
who is part of the world. Night falls
as green as cedar, shaking us
into sudden forests. Some days we wake up lost.
Lord—you who are nothing—
what words could there be
to assure those old selves?
They only want to be certain
that we will always be in the same place
to celebrate what needs celebrating:
crocus and equinox, blackberry,
birthday. Some days we are full
of birdsong. Lord, nothing
is as certain as this. They know
what we know now. It may be
that they were the ones who told us.
The grey wash of the river
like a moving mirror at our feet.
Of course it will all come
crashing down. Whatever you are,
you can count on that. Even so,
may we remain reaching
for one another, may we cover
ourselves in water, may we carry
this longing like a tree
growing over everything
which keeps us from each other.