Paulann Petersen


Christian, I learned to press
palm to palm, length of finger
to finger's length, fingertips
pointed skyward, heavenward,
my very own bony steeple.
To pray to Christ required
some part—extremities—
of my body's two halves
to be joined. Steady, steady:
the stilling effect of my body
leaned against itself,
into its self's mirror likeness.
Flesh into flesh, flesh of
my flesh, to still its wobbling.

Eyes closed, I lowered
my head, my nose close enough 
to my index fingers' tips
to feel my warm breath
as little drifts of damp wind
vainly trying to pry
my newly joined halves apart.
Resolute, each finger took
the count of its twin's pulse,
as if the rejoining of halves
long ago severed was the secret
of devout. Devotion first
to what my hand recognized
as closest to itself, and then words,
all things visible and invisible...
hear me, here, just as I was taught.

To pray Muslim I would first need
to pry my hands apart, 
let them float far in front
of my body as if they were being 
borne along on the separate
strands of a forking stream.
I would learn to curve my arms,
my palms, fingers, curve them all 
upward. I would offer to Allah
the left, the right, each removed
from its mate by my own
arms' length, by air charged
with the arcing current of separation. 

My Muslim eyes could close, 
my upright head could hold its own, 
but my hands would be open
as if waiting to receive
a gift, or willing to give
as good as they got. Teetering, 
swaying, I could pray, 
Give me, take of me, 
fill and empty these
waiting vessels 
to whatever god might be.

—Paulann Petersen

From Salt River Review, Vol. 5, No. 3, and Blood-Silk, Quiet Lion Press, 2004.

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