Prayer

Tonight, I caught myself folding my hands as in prayer

and then pushing my mouth and chin into that heart shaped union,

until my body and breathing slowed.

I think I do this unconsciously to lower my blood pressure

by creating a kind of pedestal for my face,

the way a mother or a lover does while looking into your eyes,

reassuring you of how safe you are, when what they really want

is for you to see that they need you more than you need them.

I suppose there could be other reasons for it though.

My father used to do it, so it could be a mannerism

I picked up from him. Though in his case I think he did it when

he was mad and trying to hold his child self in.

The truth is, I wish he’d expressed his anger more by say punching the wall

or yelling at you instead of always backpedaling with some rhetorical

warning, or self-righteous confession meant to guilt you into

changing your point of view without a backward glance.

Had his own rebellion against the hyper-religiosity of his parents

prevented him from becoming forgiving enough to start the process

of melting back to the self?

Had he bargained too much with the affairs of his own heart

and unlearned how to identify a want, never mind seek it out?

Had he become impotent in spirit and faith, not on purpose,

but as a consequence of enacting a kind of self-confinement?

Come to think of it, his father, my grandfather, had once petitioned

congress to change rules around Sunday school because he thought young

children should not be made to go to church, and instead allowed

to explore faith in their own time and way, so that they

wouldn’t avoid religion when they became adults and really needed it,

a thread that’s helped me realize that what I’m probably most afraid of is me,

and like my father revolving in his swiveling chair watching

that cursed Nascar, I clasp my hands and clench my teeth during

these ordinary moments when I start to feel too safe and worry

I won’t be able to hold the wheel steady around some anonymous anger

I’ve kept idling for so long it’s become practically part of the landscape,

because it feels like an old familiar that’s always been there,

one that fits in more with the horror movie characters of my campy,

irrational dreamtime, then with the more reasonable variety

hanging out in the library of my preconscious, trying to read

Harry Potter for the third time without getting bored.

Then again, maybe I just want to feel a voice pushing down on my

shoulders and rubbing them in circles as if to mantra you’ve got this buddy,

just hang in there, which is what I wish my father had said to me,

when he didn’t show up to school basketball games.

I’ll have to accept that this restlessness

is something I have no control over, no matter how deeply I learn

to transmute it. Though it’s not like it’s the first time I’ve overanalyzed a symbol

in some paradoxical attempt to simply feel more level-headed,

when all it would have taken was an ice cream or a kiss.

So, yeah, in this way, I guess I am doomed to be like my father,

doomed to be removed in the way that he was removed. But unlike my father,

and perhaps more like the father I wish I’d had, which is to say more

like the father I secretly wish I was, at least I can talk about it.

Author: Chris Russell

Chris Russell holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Concord, New Hampshire where he follows two paths: a calling as a poet, and an altruistic vocation as an education support professional.