Three Prayers

This poem is based on the Chinese idiom, ”家家有本難念的經”—or, translated literally, “each family has a prayer/text that is difficult/unpleasant to read/recite.”


A convent girl of about twelve

sits next to me on the morning bus.

Eyes closed, hands clasped over knees,

she prays,

and signs the Cross before she falls asleep.

Hair netted in a bun,

she is Virginal

and celibate for many years to come.

How flawless, faultless.

Her collar so crisp.

She gets off at St John’s Cathedral,

where she will be pardoned for sins

she will not commit,

and will say the Lord’s Prayer in Cantonese,

but perhaps, mean it in some other.

       Our father

       who art in heaven,

       may we know your name to be holy . . .

Far away now, I imagine the quiet monologue,

mirror the soft sloping of her shoulders,

and close my eyes.

Her calf sheathed

in tight white sock.

Apathetic skirt.

Not one thing loose

and the rest hidden in relief.

She smells of Nivea.

The purity is palpable.


Once I was haunted,

and a lesbian psychic

fell in love with me.

       You have too much yin, she told me, take your eyeliner off

       immediately when you get home.

       Do you? Good.

       Don’t stay in the dark.

       You don’t turn enough lights on.

       Take your eyeliner off

       when you get home,

       it makes you look like

       a cat, a lynx.

She hands me a prayer wheel.

       Spin this for fifteen minutes twice a day.

       There is something he needs

       from you, he is stuck

       in a space, signaling.

Something blows on my neck.

       Oh, and please. Have less sex.

She shifts in her seat.

So do I.

She spreads my life out in cards,

consults her crystals

and tells me of the dharma,

the karmic implications

of my libido.

As she centers me

among her tarot cards

and Buddhist incantations

I can no longer tell

what is the more occult.


Our prayer is haunting and understated,

and is read every night in the dining room.

The TV fizzles quietly—

a square God gapes at the Judgment.

The ritual begins again.

Tonight, my father will exacerbate

every intonation,

and my mother my several incriminations, desecrations.

My brother picks his teeth

and watches like the moon.

There is no communion.

Our inward silences supplicate

fatal projections, and never intersect.

Cutlery is lifted,

       This body is a temple.

I am wrung dry on the dinner table,

spayed into accord, baptised again.

Which sins are being rectified tonight?

What must be ceased and severed clean?

              And for what do I atone?

I am answered this:

       “Each family must

       recite their own difficult prayers

       in secret.”

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