Stitched Mouth Prayer
John M Ballenger (bio)

His father is inside the house,
the boy is outside in the bed of a Ford.
He climbs up on the side rail.
It’s 1980, maybe the Olympics
have been on. This is the balance
beam. He always makes it
from the cab to the tailgate. This time
he’ll try the tailgate too. Even then,
at eight years old, he knows the cost
of the narrow way, the claims it will make,
the mark that will remain with him,
inside. Years later he’ll feel it with the tip
of his tongue, the scar that runs from
the corner of his mouth, as far up 

as he can reach. How long, O Lord,
can a boy fall? How many times
does his face need to hit
that metal bumper? Teeth slice
inside the tender mouth? How many 
stitches, O Lord, to knit
the cries of your children into groans
so inarticulate that your Holy Spirit
will hear, understand them as prayer?

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