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psalm &
Is This Prayer?

Judith Chalmer

February 26, 2024


Birds . /Jessica Tamar Deutsch/ 



i saw you the other day but i didn’t speak.

who was i, after all?  and what would it mean,


your looking back? every day i repeat this

path, walking along the water.  across the lake, 


clouds nestle beneath the peaks and the peaks 

break over the clouds like powder, 


as if it weren’t the gloom or a mist there, 

but the mountains themselves thinning, becoming 


transparent.  why does this comfort me?  

i wouldn’t mind my disappearance


if it were something like this gentle tempering— 

boulders, mountains with names, whole ranges softened. 


peach and vermillion stream across the sky 

and are gone in minutes.  who am i, 


to hope you would console me?  i, who want

only to melt into your world, not leave it.


Is This Prayer?


What makes me think, though, that the region of my soul in which all

this activity’s occurring

is a site which God might consider an engaging or even acceptable

spiritual location?

C.K. Williams, “The Vessel”


But is the soul so divided? And are we doomed to the usual template, one 

region getting prayer and the others a substandard amount of whatever matters?


Or could prayer move around the way my dog does here on the second-most 

traveled path in Red Rocks Park just before the overlook with the skinny railing 


(where thank God the dog didn’t fall all the way down that time I didn’t see him 

behind me and when I went back, there he was, on a ledge beneath the overhang, 


out of reach with no way to get him back up)? Or, what if a region of the soul 

could get a false negative result for spiritual activity on God’s test probe


just because of the time, for instance now, on this gloomy, un-soulful day? 

There was a patch, just now, of blue sky and it lifted my spirits. 


Putting aside, for now, C.K.’s thoughts about God’s thought, what throws me off, 

and now that patch of blue sky is gone, by the way, is, if I still want a way to say 


I am (or was) grateful, then do I say the blue patch was given to all of us or just 

to me? How presumptuous is it to claim to be an “us”? If I lived on a dry plain, 


my farm soil cracked, would a blue sky elevate my soul? What about the many, 

some even here in the gloom, who wouldn’t want any part of my prayer?


I’m a little baffled by who, when I pray, I am. But, putting aside that 

consideration as well, if I just start and let God figure it out, is it the blue 


or the light that’s given me a lift?  (It’s the blue.) But if I’m grateful for a clear sky, 

what about the rest? Shouldn’t I be grateful for the gloom? I’m not that good 


at thinking alone (and thank God I’ve still got my dog– I tried to climb down 

at the side, where there wasn’t a guardrail, but it was too steep. I couldn’t get close 


and that’s when he started to cry and the neighbor who climbed down and back up 

with me said I’d have to call the Fire Department, so I got out my phone and


started to dial when suddenly the dog was at my side and the neighbor gently 

suggested maybe next time I should follow the law and keep my dog on a leash) 


so it kind of feels empty to say I’m grateful for anything, sun, rain, or safekeeping 

that sustains only me. But not to ignore him for too long, I wonder if C.K. would say 


God enters his soul to get to the region of prayer, or does God, in C.K.’s mind, 

just put a straw into the soul and suck the prayer out? All of which brings me 


to the physical body and how we’re stuck here inside our separate skins (no wonder 

C.K. longs for God, who’s a big one for getting under the skin) and it’s lonely for us 


but we can at least understand each other through some magic of receptors and nerves, 

and I’m not talking about sex, by the way, so that’s comforting, and now we know


how trees converse so maybe we’re not as separate as it seems and someday 

someone will find little filaments that connect us, though that would be too bad 


because it’s way more poetic (and better exercise) if our souls can jump through 

our skins like God and that’s how we agree on budgets and sewage systems. 


It’s lucky, given we’re each an “I,” that we can even perceive each other, and that’s just 

the start. There’s more to it, but once you go down that path you get to everyone 


you miss, and even if you forget about love and death, there’s so much on the side 

like trees and the sky and the way, if you like them, if you even start in 


on being thankful for this world, it breaks your poor heart. I worked this out once, 

how to form a prayer, with my wife, who would really rather be called my partner 


but that would take too long to explain, and now I can’t remember what I decided. 

That’s the trouble with personal prayer. My wife (if I may, with her permission, 


use, again, a problematic shorthand for a relationship that is deeply nuanced), 

who is more spiritual than I (also more efficient with words) says she likes to get 


her prayers from the book. They’re catchy - almost like the tune for Kaufman’s 

Rye Bread (of the highest qua-li-ty). For her, being agreeably spiritual, 


some of the words pop out and she takes them aside for a private romp. No surprise 

the dog likes her better than he likes me. Every day she plunks down on the couch 


and says to him, “Come here, come here and talk to me.” She’s so cozy and lovable. 

I should go home and nuzzle her, and as for God, see problematic, above.

Judith Chalmer

Judith Chalmer’s second book of poems is “Minnow” (Kelsay Books 2020). Her poems have been published in journals such as “Lilith” (winner Newberger Prize) and “Poetica,” and in anthologies such as “Roads Taken: Contemporary Vermont Poets” and “Queer Nature.” She is also co-translator of two books of haiku and tanka with author, Michiko Oishi. She is the recipient of the Vermont Arts Council’s Williams Award for Meritorious Service in the Arts and currently serves on the board of Vermont Humanities. In 2023 she attended the inaugural Yetzirah Jewish Poetry Conference as a scholar and is organizing a gathering of Jewish poets in Vermont inspired by that experience.

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