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:
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.