From the Trees Full of Birdsong Comes Unripe Fruit

after Rick Barot

How I start a prayer: with the same hand I use
to lift food to my mouth, I draw a line down

to my diaphragm, pulling a zipper or curtain string
to reveal the small wolf in my belly, the one I feed

fat and vinegar. This is also how I pray: at eleven, I leapt
off the awning of my house. It was autumn

and everything that surrounded me collapsed
back into the dirt. I wanted to practice

my falling, feel the earth bend beneath my arrival, convinced
I would not break. When my mother prays

in her garden after the surgery on her arm and neck,
I listen to her bones grinding against her skin.

She plants tulips, brushes a root from her hair, slices
for dinner that evening the garlic and onions she will sauté

in a wok with ground beef. And this, too, is a prayer,
my father rolling up his sleeve to reveal the long scar

on his arm to a room full of strangers at the garage
where they kept the wreckage of his car—a prayer

about the flesh around a knuckle and the alloys
the body will not reject. By prayer

I mean I read the same poem over and over,
until my hair becomes sloppy with poem, that I eat

it slowly until it coats my mouth. All of my prayers begin
with hunger, a prayer in the shape of cold

Popeye’s at my uncle’s wake, in the blood stew I fail
to replicate. My wife wants to know why I reduce my poems

to something that fits in my mouth. I don’t tell her I buried
my relatives in my throat, that my prayers belong to other voices.

When I pray, I can’t hear my acid reflux gurgle, but the trees
full of birdsong, the tires hiss as they pass over a wet

road. This is a prayer full of rain and fog, weather soaked through
my old shoes, the thin fabric that contains the storm beneath my feet.

If by prayer we also mean the stories that we did not know
came before us, then this is also a prayer: my father stepping

away while they lowered his father into the ground
as we tossed white flowers onto his coffin, the hour

in which my brothers and I turned to one another and asked
where did he go, what is he doing now?

Albert Abonado teaches creative writing at SUNY Geneseo. His book JAW is forthcoming from Sundress Publications. He received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, Colorado Review, Pleiades, Waxwing, Zone 3, and others. He hosts the Flour City Yawp on WAYO 104.3FM-LP. He lives with his wife in Rochester, NY.