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SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017

Prayer Box

by Tara Betts

Plop of a fat tear hits the yoga mat.
You swear silently everyone heard
it over the instructor’s soft dictates.
A few more drops wet your face as
you straighten out of a pose and roll
up the mat like a thick scroll padded
with words instead of spongy foam.
You excuse yourself. Class continues.

Outside, you sit on a bench. An arc
of grief speeds toward the billowing
silk of barely clinging calm and rends
across a face in a downpour of snot
and weeping. A friend assures you
how asanas release and hurt seeps
out. You nod into a used tissue.

The instructor, light as a pixie, appears.
When she touches your shoulder, a tiny
box of a lidded charm winks on her wrist.
You ask. She explains it is a prayer box.
You want a row of them to encircle
your arm, wishes dangling so you can
fasten one above your dead mother’s hand.


—Selected for Honorable Mention in the competition for the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize 2016, and first published in the San Diego Poetry Annual 2016-17 (Garden Oak Press, February 2017); appears here with permissions from both poet and publisher.


SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017

Tara Betts

holds a PhD from Binghamton University and a MFA from New England College, and teaches at University of Illinois-Chicago. She is the author of Break the Habit (Trio House Press, 2016) and Arc & Hue (Willow Books, 2009). Her work appears in American Poetry Review, Poetry magazine, Essence, NYLON, The Black Scholar, Obsidian, Callaloo, RHINO, Crab Orchard Review, CICADA, Bellevue Literary Review, Meridians, Hanging Loose, and the Steppenwolf Theater production Words on Fire, among others.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury