blackbird online journal Spring 2008  Vol. 7  No. 1



Prayers to a Young God

The first day I bleed it is the color of lamb’s nose. I imagine that, birthing lambs—pink nose first, releasing new living wool from my body.  A womb can be imagined to be anything. Can be imagined to produce anything. And so is vulgar. Crowded with so many fanciful impossibilities. She wishes to birth seedlings. I don’t know what kind. I have never asked. Whenever she mentions it, though, I remark to myself that the birth would be easy. And this is another face of vulgarity. The envy of easy births. Trees. Rabbits. Rain. Sparrows. Sunrise. God. It doesn’t matter.

And when Jehovah was a young God and full of more anger and indignation, when we were young, too, and could still surprise him enough to require personal plagues and marvelous afflictions, still dear enough to warrant fantastic prophecy and dreams, miracles a nation wide, when all of this—


Next to me he says, “Your nose is bleeding.” I touch my face. The room is dark.

I sleep through the alarm and miss my meeting. Sullen, I sit on the edge of the bed, his shirt hanging amply from my shoulders. He is putting something away in the closet and he is talking. I hold one of the kittens and ignore him. He thinks I am blaming him for missing the meeting because I am not speaking. Silent and staring. He hates that. He says, “You’re overreacting.” Which is what I have been waiting for. If you are quiet long enough, if you can stand barricaded against their voice, they will say the wrong thing. And then you can be angry with them. Then you can be justified. 

I don’t enjoy being angry with him. But I enjoy thinking that I do.

He piles his wet shirts on the side of the washer. The bedsheets he hung out last night are still damp. I am crying. I have learned to cry so my mascara won’t run. The secret is quick, gentle blinks. They’re more feminine than scrunching up your lashes. I am crying and my mascara is not running and I am refusing to be consoled or apologized to. The air is damp and the clothes are damp. It is 10 a.m. on a July morning and the sky is tall and dark. I am shivering. My temperature is trembling. These tall clouds chill the body even when they are so high. The chickens call from their coop, marmalade wings flapping in the cool dust. I am crying when I slam the back door. Run a finger under my eyes, standing bent at the neck, waiting for a second round of consolation. The chickens have torn the heads off the snapdragons and left them uneaten on the sod. A second round of consolation is not coming. It has been too long. I leave. No longer crying.  

We were nearly asleep when he told me my nose was bleeding. I thought, How could you know? The room is dark. I touched my face.   

The jasmine is twined thickly into the branches of the cedar, smelling not of perfume or night but of cobwebs and a grey dust, which has drifted off the grey clouds. I help him hang his damp laundry in the damp morning. A morning damp with old silk. “R’coons live up there,” he says from behind his cigarette, gesturing toward the top of the shed dolled up with the filthy jasmine, the vines clawing upward into the needles of the patient cedar. His hips are so slim. He and his cigarette are an attractive couple. I tell one of the cats to guard the chickens from the raccoons. I ask for a cigarette for myself. I kiss his cheek. I leave. On his cheek a pair of prim pink lips.

Tomorrow I will miss a meeting. In the darkness he said, “I don’t think I’m creating anymore because I’ve learned to communicate better.” I am tired and say nothing. And he says, “I’m sorry I’m not a muse.” I say, “I knew you at the end of things.” The last spark of dust from the comet. The joke that has to be repeated. I roll onto my hip. My hated hips. Oh God. The hatred people have for the female body. The hatred they nourish for the bones encircling that implausible organ. Oh God. Unbearable. 

Just before I sleep, I see my sister behind my eyes, filling her hands with red dust, waiting for the birds.

In a few days a friend and I will be waiting for him to arrive at the train station. We will be talking about private pain. The inability to leave it. The circling back, the inward slope, hoping to surprise it. Outside it will be dark and you can see the darkness through the wind. My friend will say, “I suppose if you are always turning inward you will always confront it.” The wind is strong beside the tracks, blowing hair sideways and skirts upward. He will arrive with a kitten in hand. Head bowed into the dark wind. As if in prayer.


My heart, my heart. My eyes have retreated to their corners. To their holy places. My eyes are talismans in their holy places. My heart. I want to vomit. Vomit out my heart. For a long time I thought she was six feet tall. One day I asked and she said five foot even. I was baffled. I wasn’t sure what to do. I am walking away from the train and I stop and I look over my shoulder, and it is only Oakland behind me, only cigarette butts and dark skin and the depressed trees of the city and vomit at the roots of the sad sad trees. I wear dark glasses so no one can see my holy eyes. I wear dark glasses to keep me safe. If they see my holy eyes they will want to take them from me.

She was only five foot tall and when I saw her she was shaped like a small goddess. Her hips were so broad. Too broad to be wasted on seedlings. Once, she said something about hearts stuffed into molars. It would be a tight fit, I thought. It would be a toothache.

She was shaped like a small goddess or like Esther. She was shaped like Esther’s story. Small female body curled downward toward the earth, back caressed by pale stalks, tired fingers seeking kernels of dropped grain in the young sun. A cooler sun. Tired fingers quickly picking the dropped grain before the birds could snatch them. God providing for her and God providing for the birds. Neither sowing. Neither wanting. A life bitter and insistent as a new fire. Thick knees, creased eyes in the fields: golden, startling: a round, bent flesh in a wealthy field– 

But no. No. That wasn’t her at all.

That wasn’t Esther’s story at all.  


It is lessening. The quiet breeding quiet. At the train platform early, my newspaper snapping in the bay wind. California grey and golden in the echo of the freight whistles. Golden mustards and golden anise and the weeds bent dead and golden, too. My cough sounds obscene over the lowing of the boats and the trains. I often doubt that God has been here. To this crescent of California. The Mojave, undoubtedly. God being a God of deserts. And the Sierras, I would not be surprised, God having a fondness for mountains in His youth. And I know He has bathed in the Pacific, God proving Himself a faithful lover of the sea. But the bay is not the sea and I am unconvinced that God has ever visited.

But the desert.

There was the desert, and there was God. Nothing you can sow will grow there. Everything grows its self. And there was my self, too, there with the desert, with God. With her. And getting into the car I said, “How are you?” And she said “Nervous.” And so was I. But I didn’t tell her. There I was in the desert, the desert insisting on bone-colored things. Bone-colored feelings. What with the moon hanging pale and huge as bone above the Sangre de Cristo mountains. And the snow pale and cold as small bones on the ground, and the dirt stained the color of dying blood.

And there was Elijah beside the brook, and the birds fed him there. Elijah hidden, waiting, crouched in the red dust. And when he came down the mountain there was a minor prophet. And he was indignant at the sight of Elijah. The minor prophet could not contain his jealousy. Oh God. The jealousy of minor prophets toward prophets. Of those fed by ravens and those left to famine. Don’t think I don’t know this pain. What with my gaze suckling Christ’s blood beside her. Nervous. Unspoken. The indignation of bone pale snow on the curve of the desert, of having to love those greater than ourselves. Oh God. Oh God.

Oh God, I will, perhaps always, need to destroy.


I wad my scarf to my face as if my nose was pouring blood, or the air was rife with poison. As if I were laboring in a dry field. I was wrong. I mean, it wasn’t Esther, at all. Ruth. It was Ruth’s story. Ruth with her bleeding fingers, her dry mouth. Ruth gleaning the fields. Ruth with the life of a bird. Esther, she had the life of a queen. The women with their wombs. The women with their hips and hands. Oh God. The women blessed enough to have their stories.   

My scarf is wadded over my face as if blood were leaving my mouth. But it is only emotion that is leaving my body. Emotion I cannot name or pull close enough to feel its form. Anger without odor. Bitterness without sound. Emotions emanating blindly from a dark cave. They come forth from me in flocks, beaks clamped purposefully onto crusts of bread. Are there still prophets left to feed? Oh God. I can feel their wing tips vaguely about my shoulders, about my damp face. Here in this landscape of air and water. This landscape of my heart.

Ruth. Ruth Ruth Ruth. A mother of Christ, you with your bloody hands. And when we drink the blood of Christ, don’t we drink your blood, too? And the blood of whores. And the blood of thieves. Everybody’s ancestors bleed. Everybody’s history bleeds from the mouth. I will bleed if you will bleed. I will, I will, with you, with you.


When it lessens enough to finally break. When it is finished breaking. Rain from a cloud small as a man’s hand. The tear-scented whisper into an unbelieving face. A sprout through its own softening shell. What happens next? To all of us who aren’t very good animals. To all of us who can pray. When the shuddering comes, what happens next?

Now Elijah spoke a simple prayer while eight hundred and fifty bleeding prophets watched. And beside an altar drenched with water, Elijah prayed. And when Elijah prayed, the stone altar and the sacrificed bull and the red dust, too, they were all consumed by tongues of fire. Hear me. Hear me. Is that every prayer, to any god? Hear me.

Hear me.

When I am finally broken. Once, I dreamt she birthed a forest. Every tree was an evergreen.

Hear me. In the darkness he said, “Your nose is bleeding.” And I said nothing. I touched my face.  

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