Lake Effect, Spring 2020, Volume 24: "Lost Prayers"

Lost Prayers

By Doug Ramspeck


I was eleven the year I lived with my uncle in California,

where he was deacon at the Methodist church. It seemed


that a girl from our neighborhood was sick with leukemia,

so the pastor asked the congregation to offer the solace


of our prayers, to lift them through the church rafters to find

their way to God. And I remembered, as I prayed, swimming


with that girl a few times in July at the public pool, and how

she had seemed, in her orange bathing suit and long dark hair


that clung wetly to her newly-teenage body, someone to worship

from afar. And I imagined that my prayers rose in the church


in the way the crows called most mornings from the woods behind

my uncle’s house, their voices lifting together to debate some


mystical philosophy by piercing the fabric of the air.

Then a week after the funeral, a fire glowed each day


in the hills behind my uncle’s house. And one morning

I watched a singed and wobbly coyote wander down


from the slopes. And I thought—for reasons I couldn’t say—

of that neighbor girl floating on her back in the pool,


and of our prayers colliding in the air at my father’s church, a great

swarm of them lifting like dust devils to form a nearly living shape.


Then I watched the coyote stagger across the road,

then slip the prayer of its body into the trees.