“Learning How to Pray” by Cathy Smith Bowers

ghostly flowers
Image by Kristin Beeler

When I heard my brother
was dying         youngest
of the six of us            our
lovely boy         I who in matters
of the spirit
had been always suspect
who even as a child
snubbed Mama’s mealtime ritual
began finally to
pray          and fearing
I would offend
or miss completely
the rightful target of my pleas
went knocking everywhere
the Buddha’s huge
and starry churning        Shiva
Vishnu       Isis    the worn
and ragged god of Ishmael
I bowed to the Druid reverence
of trees       to water     fire
and wind          prayed to weather
to carbon          that sole link
to all things
this and other worldly
our carbon who art in heaven
prayed to rake and plow
the sweet acid stench of dung
to fly        to the fly’s soiled
wing        and to the soil
I could not stop
myself               I like a nymphomaniac
the dark promiscuity
of my spirit       there
for the taking       whore
of my breaking heart     willing
to lie down       with anything.




Cathy Smith Bowers was born and reared, one of six children, in the small mill town of Lancaster, South Carolina. Her poems have appeared widely in publications such as The Atlantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, and The Kenyon Review. She served for many years as poet-in-residence at Queens University of Charlotte where she received the 2002 JB Fuqua Distinguished Educator Award. She now teaches in the Queens low-residency MFA program and at Wofford. She is the author of four collections of poetry: The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas, Texas Tech University Press, 1992; Traveling in Time of Danger, Iris Press, 1999; A Book of Minutes, Iris Press, 2004; The Candle I Hold Up To See You, Iris Press, 2009. Smith Bowers is the current Poet Laureate of the state of North Carolina.

Read a review of Like Shining from Shook Foil here.