Poems as Secular Prayers

posted November 1, 2022

I always begin a writing session by reading a poem aloud. Like a prayer, a poem can connect me to myself, and to something deeper than myself, with spirit-imbued words. The poem reminds me to focus, recognize what really matters, appreciate the beauty available on this earth and among our strange species.

In past years, I’ve shared poems during November, as a participant in the wonderful annual fundraiser, 30 Poems in November. I’m writing again this year, and you can support me or another poet (or participate yourself!) right here.

This year, though, I want to raise up other poets and celebrate the words they’ve brought to me, my writing groups and my family. Here is one I discovered last week on poets.org that I can’t stop thinking about. Enjoy!


Laurel Chen

after Gwendolyn Brooks

My wild grief didn’t know where to end.
Everywhere I looked: a field alive and unburied. 
Whole swaths of green swallowed the light. 
All around me, the field was growing. I grew out 
My hair in every direction. Let the sun freckle my face. 
Even in the greenest depths, I crouched 
Towards the light. That summer, everything grew 
So alive and so alone. A world hushed in green. 
Wildest grief grew inside out.

I crawled to the field’s edge, bruises blooming 
In every crevice of my palms. 
I didn’t know I’d reached a shoreline till I felt it 
There: A salt wind lifted 
The hair from my neck. 
At the edge of every green lies an ocean. 
When I saw that blue, I knew then: 
This world will end.

Grief is not the only geography I know. 
Every wound closes. Repair comes with sweetness, 
Come spring. Every empire will fall: 
I must believe this. I felt it 
Somewhere in the field: my ancestors 
Murmuring Go home, go home—soon, soon. 
No country wants me back anymore and I’m okay.

If grief is love with nowhere to go, then 
Oh, I’ve loved so immensely. 
That summer, everything I touched 
Was green. All bruises will fade 
From green and blue to skin. 
Let me grow through this green 
And not drown in it. 
Let me be lawless and beloved, 
Ungovernable and unafraid. 
Let me be brave enough to live here. 
Let me be precise in my actions. 
Let me feel hurt. 
I know I can heal. 
Let me try again—again and again. 

Copyright © 2022 by Laurel Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 21, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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  1. Nerissa,

    A very powerful statement of the depth of her grief. But the significance of the microbus is lost on me…

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