Begin again among the poorest, moments off, in another time and place.
Belongings gathered in the last hour, visible invisible:
Tin spoon, teacup, tremble of tray, carpet hanging from sorrow’s balcony.
Say goodbye to everything. With a wave of your hand, gesture to all you
Begin with bread torn from bread, beans given to the hungriest, a carcass
Take the polished stillness from a locked church, prayer notes left
Answer them and hoist in your net voices from the troubled hours.
Sleep only when the least among them sleeps, and then only until the
Make the flatbed truck your time and place. Make the least daily wage
Language will rise then like language from the mouth of a still river. No
Bring night to your imaginings. Bring the darkest passage of your holy
“Prayer” from Blue Hour by Carolyn Forché, © 2004. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
It begins with a word as small as the cry of Athena’s owl.
An ache in the cage of breath, as when we say can hardly breathe.
In sleep we see our name on a stone, for instance.
Or while walking in the rain among graves we feel watched.
Others are still coming into our lives. They come they go out.
Some speak quietly beside us on the bench near where koi swim.
At night there is a light sound of wings brushing the walls.
Not now is what it sounds like. Or two other words.
But they are the same passerines as live in the stone eaves,
as forage in the air toward night. To see them one must not be looking.
“Harmolypi” appeared in World Literature Today (Jan. 2017) and is forthcoming in In the Lateness of the World (Penguin, March 2020). Reprinted by permission of the author.
Carolyn Forché’s first volume, Gathering the Tribes, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, was followed by The Country Between Us, The Angel of History, and Blue Hour. Her latest collection, In the Lateness of the World is forthcoming in 2020. She has translated Mahmoud Darwish, Claribel Alegria, and Robert Desnos. Her famed international anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993), has been praised by Nelson Mandela as “itself a blow against tyranny, against prejudice, against injustice,” and was followed by the anthology Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500-2001 (2014). In 1988 she received the Edita & Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace & Culture Award in Stockholm for her human rights advocacy and the preservation of memory and culture. She was also a finalist for the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. She holds a University Professorship at Georgetown University, where she directs the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. She is currently at work on a memoir and a fifth collection of poetry.