Prayer – by Susan O’Dell Underwood

Stand at the canyon at sunrise
to watch the last dark become shadow,
to watch the shadows of morning drain like water.
The walls fill downward with light
you would never have believed before now.
Faith would never, not for an eternity, have been enough.
You have to witness for yourself.
The birdsong lifts the sky into being,
beaks and tongues and heat blooming into day,
as if the sun comes out of the ruby nests of their throats,
as if they sing the scent of juniper and pinyon,
as if they sing you, here.
You should believe enough now
to throw yourself from the rim.
Walk to the edge, as if you could walk
across the praise of day, as if you could fly.
But it is enough to practice throwing your voice
like a naked body, the one you were born into,
off the red lip of the canyon.
It is enough to whisper,
until you learn well enough
that there is nothing you need to say.

Susan O’Dell Underwood directs the creative writing program at Carson-Newman University. She and her husband, artist Dave Underwood, started Sapling Grove Press ( to publish work from under-served artists, photographers, and writers in Appalachia. Besides two chapbooks, her writing appears in journals and anthologies, including Oxford American, Crab Orchard Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and Southern Humanities Review. The poems published here are from her first full-length book of poems, The Book of Awe, forthcoming from Iris Press.

Photographer’s Note: Although I can’t explain it, this poem made me think of this photo.