A Word Told Me

When Brother Stephen said what he said
my face flushed, ears turned red,
and a flightless bird beat its wings in my chest.

He’d asked for our definition of prayer.
My hand flew up, the other boys stared,
their eyes like cockroaches under lights
scurried for cracks in the floor.

In sixth grade I didn’t know my thoughts
until I spoke them.
Smart mouth! my father snapped
before he slapped my face.
No matter how I tried,
my words would fly before I knew it.

Brother Stephen scanned the room.
My lone arm beat the air above lowered heads.
Resigned to his audience of one,
he called on me and I said,
Since God created everything,
to appreciate anything is a kind of prayer.

His eyes widened and a grin
like wind through fescue
spread across his face.
He looked straight at me and said,
You are very ingenious!


I didn’t know what it meant,
but heard it settle in the grass.
I picked it up
and cupped it close all afternoon,
cradled to my chest,
listened to it rise and fall,
let it whisper in my ear
and took it home after school.


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