Cecelia Hagen

Praying or Cursing  

Holy mother of God, he would say, and this was cursing.
But when we said Holy Mary, Mother of God,
that was praying.

Patty’s father holding the steering wheel or a broken toy
or a bottle of beer in his hand,
muttering under his breath but loud enough,

or our class kneeling on wooden risers,
moving rosaries between our chewed cuticles
as we faced the figure hanging from three large nails.

Praying or cursing, it was all talk
to the saints and nuns and statues,
all tongue-speak, all moving in and out like the tides.

Home from school we changed
out of our blue uniforms and ran
like gulls on the sand-sprouting crabgrass

that circled the carport, handing Patty’s dad the wrench,
the flashlight, the Jesus Mary and Joseph the other wrench,
for Chrissakes. We were praying for his soul,

doing a kind of homework, learning about
banging your knuckles and settling for what
was handed you, shaking your head, your large ears

almost flapping, your T-shirt gray with grime
like a soul that had been cleansed and cleansed and cleansed,
good enough but never really good again, forever and ever,


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