The Word That Is a Prayer


by Ellery Akers

One thing you know when you say it:
all over the earth people are saying it with you;
a child blurting it out as the seizures take her,
a woman reciting it on a cot in a hospital.

What if you take a cab through the Tenderloin:
at a street light, a man in a wool cap,
yarn unraveling across his face, knocks at the window;
he says, Please.

By the time you hear what he’s saying,
the light changes, the cab pulls away,
and you don’t go back, though you know
someone just prayed to you the way you pray.

Please: a word so short
it could get lost in the air
as it floats up to God like the feather it is,
knocking and knocking, and finally
falling back to earth as rain,
as pellets of ice, soaking a black branch,
collecting in drains, leaching into the ground,
and you walk in that weather every day.

About the Author:

Ellery Akers is a writer, artist, and naturalist living on the coast of Northern California. She received a B.A. from Harvard and an M.A. from San Francisco State University. She has won nine national awards for writing, including the John Masefield Award, the Paumanok Award, and Sierra magazine’s Nature Writing Award.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©1997 by Ellery Akers, whose most recent book of poetry is Knocking on the Earth, Wesleyan University Press, 1989. Reprinted from The Place That Inhabits Us, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2010, by permission of Ellery Akers and the publishers. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation.