Mudlark Flash No. 24 (2004)

Frances Ruhlen McConnel

Frances Ruhlen McConnel is a poet and writer of short stories and creative nonfiction. She teaches in the Creative Writing Department at the University of California, Riverside. She lives in Claremont, California, and her old stomping grounds include Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Anchorage, Alaska, and Seattle, Washington, where she attended the University of Washington. She has published one book of poetry, GATHERING LIGHT, from Pygmalion Press and edited a collection of West Coast Women's Poetry, ONE STEP CLOSER, also from Pygmalion Press. Recently she won the Oneiros Press Broadside Contest and a broadside of her winning poem will appear in the summer. A chapbook of her haiku is due out from Bucket of Type Printery this spring. She is presently working on an eccentric family memoir.

Prayer for My Cousin in a Coma After a Car Crash

If you have any connections with the man upstairs,
appeal to him for us, says my uncle, the skeptic.
Skeptic myself, I don’t have powers
in that direction, but I promise to pray anyway,
though I am ashamed. Afraid, even, that I
should ask such a favor when everywhere
in the world the innocent become the fallen.

In Baghdad’s al-Nast market, say,
this May, where Shamsiya Abid lost 3 sons—
Ali, 21, Hussein, 18, Mohammed, 12—
in their own yard, washed clean of blood
by the next day’s viewing, but for trickles
hidden under the crates of Pepsi-Cola
they sold when they weren’t studying.

Elsewhere in the world there are beds
beside which mothers and fathers, brothers
and sisters and cousins bow down their heads
in grief over such and another young man’s form,
still and near death, because he too
suffered a sudden tangent into disaster,
being in the wrong place at the wrong time,
when a drunk turned his car into a missile,
or when a bomb fell. Maybe our bomb.

And they pray too and have prayed to the God
that, surely, surely is the same,
no matter what we call Him, what prophet or set
of rules and songs codify and glorify His name.

Sometimes I envy the Ancients, the way Homer
tells it; how in the Trojan war the Greeks’ goddess
Athena walked one hundred feet tall,
beside them to battle, while the towering
Aphrodite urged on the Trojans.
How they had personal gods, with personal
loyalties, and one could beseech them,
as a child to its mother, without fear
of hypocrisy or impertinence? Without the shame
that drags down my words: “Save him.”
And why him? says some god-voice among
the puppets in my head, why not such and such
a one in Iraq or Afghanistan where
no machine helps to bleat out his breath?

Lambs all. My tongue wants to pray, instead,
for all of us: to have strength, to accept,
to be numb or not numb, to take it in
without collapsing from the weight.

Still, I have been asked and I proffer up his name:
Gary, the Trickster, and his wife’s name: Bonnie,
and daughters, Maria and Danielle.
And his parents, Maurice and Florence,
his brother and his sisters: Dwight, Marsha, Linda.
His cousins, aunts, nephews, nieces,
friends—this compendium of the grieving
too long to enumerate, as we are perhaps too many
for a God-Over-All to remember our names.

Copyright © Mudlark 2004
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