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My brother asks to teach him how to pray

— Tanaya Winder

Says, he’s forgotten how to hold his breath.
Sister, look! he says, between coughs, Look!
You see? Black rivers. I’m coughing them up…
Where? Be careful. They’ll pull you under
if you step in
. His shoulders dry heave
like he’s kneeling in church begging
for forgiveness or another demon to ride shotgun
quick to the corner store, where his friends gather
like fans waiting to hear more stories.
Remember, that time I flew so high the ground disappeared?
Every day he cruises up and down
searching for another kind of airplane,
convinced he’s got clouds in his lungs.

These days, all he does is twiddle his thumbs
the way grandmother used to do between hymns.
The only part of church she liked was the singing.
She doesn’t like to remember the things that happened
back then when you prayed in your own language.
How to this day scriptures still sting
as the words skip from throat to tongue.

These days, he’ll tell you he’s found the answer
to everything in a lost prayer, like a song
you start humming then forget. Sister, look! Exclaiming,
hands in front of him as if playing a saxophone, Can you see?
The music comes out in black rivers
. It floods notes that
he plays too slow. He’s held his breath the entire way,
now hands in the air, mid-prayer,
exhaling some clouds that have already rained.


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