Lent Prayer

The way prayer is root to precarious : two crows creep
the steeple. Not winter,
not spring. Given a chance,
a season out of season will write

bastard pastoral, elegy
full of errant splendor and spent sheets of sleet, rain all spondaic

and unrelenting. Pallid nouns look familiar
but they're dead :
after thaw, after crocuses, even tulips : new snow, and robins
caught on a border without name, lost

to a scrim of frost, dozens
dead, each a lace of lice. The way soul has
no certain etymology, how weirdly what's rootless goes
wrong-like, fog

erasing syntax that holds
nouns in the sentence called landscape, looks like : streetlight tree
snowdrop stray-cat tow-truck leaves sidewalk snowmelt : except
what's visible

shifts, wind
arranging things,
the neighbor's lit window gone down the block like a dog
off its lead.

But all the small-town lights have left
for the Susquehanna
where they lean over water and rinse long-
billed birds into shallows, cattails

that shiver
the river like quills
sunk in dark ink. If I bring
to the banks what nouns I've found,

what of it?
Clean of scene they shine
in the mind like fish flick water open, switchblade-
quick : weathervane

horse-cart milk-pail police-tape
farmhouse snowplow : if
I put them back, I'll hate the tableaus
they make : cows

crapping in crabgrass; on Market St.,
little flags flapping; or two Amish girls
pressing curd through cloth;
dirty water. It's written :

the opera house burned
in 1906. What is it goes on living
in a town like this, between penitentiary and nicotine, the way form lives on
in both feign and fiction : arson

or accident, the plaque says this
is the original cornerstone : because
the root of error is wander,
who wouldn't want

out of a town so wrong? The current's fed under the bridge
like fabric to a sewing needle, each light
a small satin boat
stitched slow in folds.

Who wouldn't want to go
to them,
the lights? As prayer is
route to precarious, the river trembles on its treadle.

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