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Answer to Prayer: A Short Story That Could Be Longer

ISSUE:  Spring 1975

In that bad year, in a city to have now no name,
In the already-dark of a winter’s day, our feet
Unsteady in slip-tilt and crunch of re-freezing snow
        as if lame,
And two hands ungloved to clasp closer though cold,
        down a side street

We moved. Ahead, intersecting, stretched the avenue where
Life clanged and flared like a gaudy disaster under
Whatever the high sky wombed in its dark imperative of air,
And where we, to meat and drink set, might soon pretend, or

At least hope, that sincerity could be bought by pain.
But now stopped. She said, “Wait!” And abrupt, was gone
Up the snow-smeared broad stone to dark doors before
        I could restrain
That sentimental idiocy. Alone,

As often before in a night-street, I raised eyes
To pierce what membrane remotely enclosed the great
        bubble of light that now
The city inflated against the dark hover of infinities,
And saw how a first frail wavering stipple of shadow
Emerged high in that spectral concavity of light, and
        drew down to be,
In the end, only snow. Then she, again there, to my
        question, replied
That she had made a prayer. And I: “For what?” And she:
“Nothing much, just for you to be happy.” Then cocking
        her head to one side,

Looked up and grinned at me, an impudent eye-sparkling
        grin, as though
She had just pulled the trick of the week, and on
        a cold-flushed
Cheek, at the edge of the grin for an accent, the single snow-
Flake settled, and gaily in insult she stuck her tongue
        out, and blood rushed

To my heart. So with hands again nakedly clasped,
        through the soft veil and swish
Of flakes falling, we moved toward the avenue. And
        later, proceeded,
Beyond swirl and chain-clank of traffic, and a siren’s
        far anguish,
To the unlit room to enact what comfort body and
        heart needed.

Who does not know the savvy insanity and wit
Of history! and how its most savage peripeteia always
Has the shape of a joke—if you find the heart
        to laugh at it.
In such a world, then, one must be pretty careful how
        he prays.

Her prayer, yes, was answered, for in spite of my
        meager desert,
Of a sudden, life—it was bingo! was bells and all
        ringing like mad,
Lights flashing, fruit spinning, the machine spurting
        dollars like dirt—
Nevada dollars, that is—but all just a metaphor
        for the luck I now had.

But that was long later, and as answer to prayer long out
Of phase. And now thinking of her, I can know neither
        what, nor where,
She may be, and even in gratitude, I must doubt
That she ever remembers she ever prayed such a prayer.

Or remembering, she may laugh into the emptiness of air.


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