Susan O'Dell Underwood

Help us not to consider our enemies 
flourishing like the flowers of the field, as many as the grasses.
Help us not to imagine terror right here 
as the speaker’s honeyed voice lifts during the middle
of Psalm 103. As he prays, please keep us 
from the distraction of the ugly inkling
that we might be deafened in the second millisecond
of the fiery blast that could shatter the gymnasium,
mangle its rage through all the bodies 
gathered here in the name of our children. 
Lord, help us to worship not you, but this moment 
and the one before, this moment 
and the one after; fill us with gratitude
for the silent peace around each word,
for the breaths we take together in ignorant congregation.
Help us take for granted the irritation
of crying babies and rude coughing and flash photography.
Fill us up with nothing but the earthy scent of our sweat,
rising up clean under graduation robes and Sunday dresses, 
the suit coats of fathers and uncles and grandfathers.
Pour across us the sour smell of a thousand skidding sneakers, 
and the sharp odor of floor wax. 
Protect us here in our boredom as each name is called, 
our mild applause and congratulations.
For truly this is a hollow place, 
a house meant for shouting hoots and referee whistles 
where worship can hardly take hold. 
Lord, we are a little people, easily overlooked.
Please help others to overlook us. 
Keep us safe from the monstrous in the middle of America. 
Far from money and sky scrapers, please
sanctify our mediocrity. Bless our our foolish faith 
that no one has any reason to harm us.
We bow our heads for the benediction
but can hardly close our eyes
against the beautiful flesh of the maple floor, 
emblazoned with our home-team insignia, our colors.
Above us, the scoreboard says nothing, its clock 
set at zero hour, and the basketball nets hang empty, 
signs as hopeful as any you have ever made.

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