Jul/Aug 2020  •   Poetry  •   Special Feature


by Syd Shaw


Here is winter, the sky glittering
like  frosted-over glass, here is the moon,
the Star of David, the eight of cups.

My best friend has made peace with her god
and I am kneeling on the kitchen floor, finding
something holy in the sweat running down my back.

Though there is no suit of hearts in this deck, only swords.
For decades my mother kept her religion a secret,
prayed only in bed. It took me twenty years to think:

something is missing. Our parents raised us
with a ruthless practicality. I believed
only in the secular warmth of the home,

the scent of bread, divisions of atoms, the distant garden
where our pets were laid to rest. Now I cannot stop
cutting the deck, the cards all say keep

moving, my suitcase is always packed,
head buzzing with desperate beliefs like fortune
and hope, and inertia above all. I walk

down another unfamiliar sidewalk while my best friend
is on her knees in temple. I sat in the rows with her once,
reading the graffiti on the back of the benches,

longing to carve my initials into some corner of the world.
She apologized for making me uncomfortable;
she did this every time we talked about faith.

What makes me uncomfortable is the weak sound of my voice
in prayer. I cannot claim anything as my own enough,
having only my family and our fragments

of belief, crafted into something thin-spun
and fragile. My mother taught me to bake
to measure sugar with care, to knead and touch

and hold. No matter how I shuffle the deck,
the cards keep coming up in reverse, meanings
twisted. Even on paper the swords shine sharp and cold.