Fragments of language and story extracted from the body
~by Temim Fruchter
Nine Other Prayers
Please let this never stop.
Because it’s not like breathing or walking I had to learn to pray. Because I am made of thighs and wine and restless ancestors I didn’t have to learn too much. We were girls modest at school and we swayed, we shuckled, not because they told us to, not because of choreography – though there was choreography – but because the bodies centuries behind our bodies made urgency of singing. This has made it harder for generations since to stand still.
I can’t stand still now. Born a swish of soft denim skirt, blunt rebound plastic orange chair to the backs of waking legs, yawning big for more air than the day school ceiling would allow. The swing of prayer comes easy and I am not graceful. I think desert wanderers, loop dancers, sea crossers, escape artists. I think irreverent scientists, ecstatic rabbis, clumsy angels, elderly acrobats. I hear the cotton morning voices of girls, some loud, some whisper, some cough and some sigh. One is deep and one is thin like a weedy pond. I hear and I think they hear me back.
Please sharp thing come and find me.
Now I believe in everything. I believe in too much. I believe too hard. I believe with furrow and with tongue, with curled toes and with stretched palms. I believe with paws, jowls, handles, rounds, echoes, caverns, lips. I am too ready, my everything. Thighs full of sediment melt and lie. Fingers through which there are no coincidences. The place between my cheeks where the rogue divine hums warm. Sometimes I sleep and arrogant dreams grow sacred cities between my shoulders. Sometimes only sadness grows there slow and quiet because everything is thick with truth and there is no time. But always, everything is on fire. No matter what dreams, there is no stopping that.
Please let it hold me.
It is the smell of the pages first, then the tiny gloss of the ink, and the chapel of the binding. I am looking for somewhere. I feel my eyes getting closer and closer to the words every day, until one winter morning, I feel the tip of my nose touch the fold and, almost instinctively, I squeeze the book shut to my cheeks, so that my face is buried in it. Suddenly all I am breathing is paper and handwriting and the ashes of ancient arguments. I want to stay in here so bad, hidden and accompanied, alone and among. This is a beautiful place, this dark insufficient shelter, and I am surrounded.
I don’t know if the other girls notice that I begin burying my face in my book every day when the standing prayer goes long. One day, even after we filter out of the room and head to our lockers, I realize that the thing I never need to tell anyone is that I am always in here. The Sistine of the inside curve of my head, the generations of high priests, low slow worshippers, handsome wolves. Everyone. Everyone is right here.
Please take what I have.
I have no book anymore, no fold, no room, no chairs, no girls and there are seldom words. Moments when I mean to point to the sky or to the ground my words fall heavy to sleep. Still my head is a temple and always I am alone with something or somebody else. I want vaguely without the end of a sentence. I have unborn questions. I close my eyes and my mouth and hope for a different-shaped way to tell you everything, and maybe even to ask.
Please I want to trade all of my words for the now. Please this violet air to my ears through my bike spokes in the street through the dips and the cool places in the wind on the edge of my skin and the whir of wind chimes on gold porches and the leaning gnarl of roots and the flexing of curious vines and the secret curve of the road and the firefly bulbs over finishing dinners and the promise lights and the soft approach of home.
This instead. Take this. Make it mean everything.
Please help me count.
My cheek against the cool wood floor on the one part of the holiday when I’m allowed to press my face there, my knees heavy to the synagogue carpet, elbows sticky on the wood glaze, hiding my face. Everyone is on the floor then like we never are, prostrate, needy, singing into the ground. The women billow in skirts and the men fold in their suits, some of their coarse desperate grunts bleeding into weeping. Skies open when the shuckling stops, the bended knees and dizzy pews and fervent outstretched arms collapse into this one moment. I am a little bit awed and a little bit afraid. Maybe I am a little bit thrilled. Maybe we all are. We stay down, all of us alone and among, for four words, fourteen syllables.
I blur, wanting time to stop. Everything down here is a secret. I don’t want to get up.
Please don’t let it run clear.
Is this a prayer? Giving you an abstraction in exchange for a precision, the dot of light, the velvet fingerprint, stars and cylinders and arcs between our mouths trying to say almost exactly what they mean.
Is this a prayer? Counting minutes to yes. Counting seconds to yes. Yes. Yes. Please, yes.
Is this a prayer? Knowing something so hard it heats through my bones until they soften and I wilt a little. To swoon with knowing.
Please let these be prayers. They are the closest thing.
Are you listening?
Please tell us something bigger.
It is all by heart now. By chest, by crevice, by slope of neck and cheek. I have never needed to find this many words or this much quiet. I unbury my face to so much world in each of us here and gasp, bare, without cover. Baffled, raging, helpless, negligent, lusty, wrong. We sleep here. We feed here. We touch here. How do I sit with the stars’ tornado? A fire across the world, a band of never forgot, make my shoulders know this texture from a gladder one, make my eyes stay open, make me know the steps in my feet and hips, make me learn the words differently this time.
We are almost home, where home means coming around the bend to somewhere younger. What I know is that there is something that exists before the words. Maybe there’s an easy outfit – a soft yellow sundress and lipstick the color of plums. Maybe there’s an architecture of muscle and bone, our hearts as cities destroyed and rebuilt so that the layers of them show. Maybe there have been countless leafy blue days and they’ve become a chain of something treasured and the same, and it doesn’t exactly matter which one shows up in the story.
It is not enough to ask. It is not enough to tell. It is not enough to flex secret muscles, to be pleased with our poetry. It is only enough to be porous. It is only enough to spill. It is only enough to unhide us. It is only enough to hold and release at the same time. It is only enough to hold and keep holding.
You are listening, I know. It is not a question the way I pretend it to be.