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Poem of the Week by Perry Nicholas

By Perry Nicholas

Have you prayed?

– Li-Young Lee

The first dead person I ever saw

wore a handkerchief over his face

because he could not afford a coffin

as he was carried across the cobblestones

by four Greek men, when I was just a boy.

And I was just a boy when I experienced

my first big lie, the one about tolerance

toward others who were darker

and different than us, watching my mother

chase away an Indian kid with a hose.

The very last time I saw my father

almost set himself on fire in drunkenness,

revving the engine, tires stuck in the mud,

I didn’t run as I should have, but steeled

myself like a man, though I was just a boy.

I answered the question, have you prayed,

every Sunday as an altar boy

after I found weekly faith is not

always dreamlike, or if it is, often too thick

to see through, especially by boys.

When I realized I would feel young

even though I was decades to the wind,

and prayer wouldn’t make a tiny difference,

I learned to tuck in my wings, land and roll,

always a boy in a man’s shell, saved.

PERRY NICHOLAS will join singer-songwriter Maria Sebastian-Nicholas for an evening of music and poetry at 7 p.m. June 16 at 189 Public House, 189 Main St., East Aurora. He is a professor of English at Erie Community College and the author of five collections of poetry, the most recent of which are “Beginnings: Poems to Greece and Back” (2012) and “The Company We Keep” (a collaboration with Maria Sebastian, 2013). This poem originally appeared in the arts and culture journal Chronogram.