First I set down the candle

(which is the wrong kind)

and place beside it the saint

of mercy (though I haven’t learned

to pronounce her name). Next to her,

a wooden robot I bought

on an eight-hour layover in Taipei

and a black Spiderman with his tongue out

for company. I finally light the wick

and twist a glass of water once

in front of the statue and lay down

a gift of beads of the orishas

my friend Latasha once gave me

when we made music together for Sekou,

and because I’m one of the sons

who asks for forgiveness,

I lean my mother’s only picture

against a tall bottle of Barbadian rum

and in front of that a glass

with half a finger worth of its liquor

and to remember my father’s Jesus

I hang a little wood cross

on the wrist of the wood robot

and for a little fortune I place

my last orange at the saint’s feet.

I turn out the lights. I have no blessings.

I say thank you for the rum

and the water and the wood of the tree

that is the body of the Robot of Waiting.

I say thank you for my mother

and the mercy. Thank you for Spiderman

and Sekou. Thank you for both

the fire and the orange who are first cousins

to one another. I bow my head.

I don’t know if there is a direct line to God.

So I make another prayer.

And it goes like this:


Dear Whoeveryouare,

Every time I travel to an unknown place

I’m sure to lose something. Today,

I promise not to pray to find those things again.

Instead, I pray for the dogs in my heart to sleep

and for the house of my cousin built

into the side of a mountain packed

with rock and fire to be safe

and the other house of the other cousin

beside the river to be safe

from poison and safe from flood.

I pray for their presence of mind

to save all their doors. I pray

for my brothers and sisters, who are exiles.

Everywhere I go is an unknown place,

even here, where the pigeons line the wire

waiting for a fat man to dump

a crushed half loaf of white bread

out of a clear plastic bag

on the corner below my window.

I pray to make my foreignness holy.

Here is a bit of food I cooked myself

in a tiny bamboo bowl.

Dear ancestor, Dear saint,

One day I will say your name.

Let me improvise it like a knife.

Let me bury it in another prayer.

Let me improvise it like a kite.

One day I’ll close all my skies.

One day I’ll be nothing but listening.

I’ll go back to the first land I came from

where the whole world is unheard of,

where everything that is holy is strange.


Patrick Rosal
is the author of three previous collections of poems. His fourth, book, Brooklyn Antediluvian, is due out in 2016. Boneshepherds was recognized as a notable title by the National Book Critics Circle and the Academy of American Poets. His essays and poetry have appeared in Brevity, Gulf Coast, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Grantland, and many other journals and magazines. His writing has been collected in Best American Poetry, Language for a New Century, and Dandániw ti Ilokano: mga tulang Ilokano, 1621-2014, a comprehensive collection of poems written in the Philippine language of Ilokano. He is a former Fulbright fellow and currently a full-time faculty member of the MFA program at Rutgers University-Camden.


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