Prayer for an Invisible Friend


Walking across the softball field,
one arm bent across your stomach,
me pleading with you to stay
and play longer. Maybe
one of my many older brothers
walked you home, I want to think so,
but nearly 50 years later
my mind can only conjure that single image
of you heading toward the path through the fence line.
Other memories reach the surface more slowly:
my father and brothers working on the family car when
Mom came outside to tell us; the look on Rick’s face;
being forced to stand on a chair
in my best dress, while my mother
impatiently yanked the knots from my long hair.
“Hold still,” she hissed. “If it were you,
wouldn’t you want her to look nice?”
You were seven.
I was a year older but had never seen
lips and skin as blue as yours had turned.
Wherever you had gone, though
you were still one of us, were still with us.
Every game we played, we counted you in —
dealt out cards for games of rummy, pushed you higher
on an empty swing
when it came your turn.
One time we found some old pieces of wood
that we used to make nameplates:
Rick, Howie, you and me.
We lined them up in the hollows
inside of a concrete block,
until our older brother Bob discovered them. Enraged,
he threw your small, chalk scratched block
as hard as he could into distant
weeds that no one ever mowed. We could offer
no defense that he understood
and I am still too careful to mention you,
even when I sense that you’re standing
close by my side.

-For Roberta Peoples as we approached the 50th anniversary of her death
In photo she is the one in the front, a little to the right
Written  7/24/2009

Available in The Scent of Water on Mirrors

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