Prayer Boats

Ganges quits the range of endless snow here
at Hardwar, where foothills splay their toes
upon the plain, the river’s glacial milk
seethes. Prayer is a fleet of leaf boats
launched at dusk, to gongs, to bells and crackling
chants. Within those vegetable shells, beds of petal,
licks of flame—fireflies on the pitching stream.
Surely those fires will flicker out, surely
snuffed in river roil and run, in night
which rolls out and out its charcoal drapery.
Still we cast them on the waters, because fire
cannot remain for long with the one who lights it,
as a river cannot linger in the range of endless snow.
The heart, too, must launch itself at dusk, not because
it trusts its leaf, its flicker, or the somersaulting
flood. And not because it knows where it is headed.
Not because it dreams of a sea somewhere, a God
somewhere beyond the ocean of the night. The night
is all—the mother of us all. Still, there is something
that the night will never comprehend—the river
running through it to the morning’s
far shore.

About the author

A writer and former journalist for National Public Radio, Richard Schiffman is based in New York. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in…

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Issue 13 · September 2011

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