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.