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.