All beings In Distress

By AE Reiff

I think people lead a life of secret prayer, pray without ceasing but don’t know they do, groaning what cannot be uttered. The way the shoulders slump tips this off, one higher than the other, like plants twisted toward the sun or a thumb cradled in the hand. It’s a plea for deliverance the way the belly sags, the blemish on skin, sputtering of speech with spit, a flickering connection, a prayer, ribs of palm metacarpals, sudden gestures sweeping down the sides of hands, sideburns on heads, moss on logs, rings on fingers, hair patches, broken nails, a man who sits in his heart, pump, bladder earth babies, a wife touching her husband’s shoulders with her own, brows of shadows, foreheads protected with a hand, everywhere the human  prays but does not know.

We know it true if we step back and look. All people all the time are praying. We don’t have any trouble believing TV movies about brown warp matter that increases the density of the moon to twice of earth, the end of the world, as if there is no God among gods. We don’t have any trouble believing there are gods galore. Who doesn’t have relatives that make that claim for themselves? But if there is a God the specific gravity of that event must be so great as to dwarf all other phenomena. It would have to preoccupy every being all the time, which you could say proves there is none, or you could open your eyes and realize that all beings pray secretly all the time and don’t know it, so There It Is. Sometimes we get glimpses of a thing so big we cannot but mistake it for something else, especially when we say that is the way we are, things are, meaning filled with contradiction, yearning, hype, confusion simultaneously. This would be natural in the event of there being A Specific Gravity of One so great, that tears all the assumptions of the temporal. So even while John is saying there is not he means there is, he says one thing but means another and while he won’t admit seeking this being, he never does anything else while he rails against it, himself and all other beings in his frustration that he cannot find. How could be find it, it’s in his cells, the presuppositions of his mind, his cursing the very thing he seeks and denies. So granting a Specific Gravity thus, the effort is was and ever shall be to know more the thing. When John starts from the known he argues it is like himself, everything is like himself. John is rational but cannot think anything but that everything is like himself. He even projects his neighbors.

The best known hope against hope is prayer for something impossible to occur, Abraham doesn’t pray, he just believes. At the tomb of Lazurus they don’t pray, they lament, Lord if you had been here he would not have died. He weeps but commands death. If there is no hopeless prayer of Abraham there is the hopeful prayer of mistaken agency, such as that the Dude fire in the Mogollon would be subdued by the weather, change of wind, rain, but was really subdued by a thousand firefighters, three who died, that this prayer for firefighters applied. Outcome prayers for impossibles, doubly so when every prayer is answered, are hard to accept when the answer is not in our lifetime so to speak, or maybe our generation or decade in the case of the fruition of the spirit. Something really worth praying for may come thirty years after we have given up. Answers to prayer don’t come out of machines from quarters.

The performance goal prayer is interesting, the match point, the championship putt prayer.  One approach to match point is in the strength of the arm and guile of mind. Another is see the ball, rotate beneath and strike up without knowing anything but the ball. Another, as the toss rises and just before says, “I will extol your name oh Lord at all times your praise shall continually be in my mouth.” The serve as a praise may have won as many matches, as twisted limbs have delivered the suffering, but it doesn’t ask for victory. It relaxes, but doesn’t try to. Surrender to the great is a good definition of prayer, like that other prayer without ceasing, consciously without ceasing, under breath, out loud, mentally rocking, what prisoners and those in hospitals know, mothers and fathers with sick children. When I was childless I met a Mexican man at Fred’s Fruits in Austin who asked if I had any children. He shook his hat in sorrow and said he was very sorry. What did he know I didn’t? It is the same with prayer. Vulnerability is the way to giving up your life.

There is performance prayer in traffic and coming down off ladders, doing dishes and walking dogs, on buses, in the amazement of rain, at the supermarket counter waiting. Performance prayers are all praise and thanksgiving. Thank you Lord my foot doesn’t slip, thank you Lord you deliver me, not sissy stuff, but what Wallace Stevens is praying the whole way through his poetry before he comes to his baptismal bed, you could see it coming the whole way, none more predestined than he, “We believe without belief, beyond belief” (The Palm at the End of the Mind, 270 “Flyer’s Fall”) the same heart breaths of Donne, Herbert, Hopkins, Blake.

Every work is a prayer, the higher shoulders slump or low, limbs twist to the sun, hand cradles thumb, blemish on skin, ribs of palms, sudden hands, pinion tongues, side burn moss on logs, rings, a man who can sit up, patches of hair, heart pumps, a wife touching his shoulder with her own, shadows of brows on heads, if the voice and the mind won’t pray the human form prays on its own.

AE Reiff, a composer and sculptor, is involved in the malfeasance, directly speaking, of likeness between  native and captive.  Kierkegaard says of himself that he is none of his voices, and it is urged Shakespeare is none of his, but I am all of mine. AE wrote Restorations of the Golden Age in New World Discoveries and Encouragements for such as shall have intention to be Undertakers in the Planting, its poetic equivalent. He lives west of Marfa between the Chihuahuan and the Sonoran deserts.

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