Poetry: Prayer to Saint Joseph: For the Restless
Josephine Yu accomplishes something difficult here: a poem that talks about faith with neither the baggage of too much self-seriousness or half-thought cynicism. She brings fresh urban landscapes into the language of small transcendence—grounding, as we watch, the suicide, the prayer, the continuous narrative of exile.
Saint Joseph, stepfather of Christ, patron of moving, patron
against doubt, lead us not to Seattle or LA or SoHo
when unease thickens like lime calcifying
in the porcelain basins of our chests. Lead us not
into the temptation of sublets or studio walk-ups
that get good afternoon light in our imagination.
Patron of real estate agents, deafen our ears to the call
of subdivisions with shorter commutes and condos
our lovers will swoon to enter, with brass-fixtured bathrooms
they will never lock themselves in to weep.
Patron of immigrants, let us think not on the president
of Kazakhstan, who moved his capital to a frozen steppe
and there built an aquarium and a glass pyramid
of dark-loamed, path-stitched gardens. Let us not be quick
to split when we bankrupt our small countries. O patron
of travelers and wheelwrights, when the wallpaper ripples
in the humidity of our malaise and the carpet is worn
to a sheen by our pacing, stop us before we put our houses
on the market and bury your statue in the backyard
for luck. You who know the summons
of the journey, remind us of the friend who left town
in the middle of the week, abandoning
a mattress and a lease, and whom we later learned
stepped off a bridge, holding hands with his loneliness.
Still our hands as we pack. Remind us the roughest fabric
of the self will end up folded like a sweater
in the suitcase, pilled and raveled and transcendent.
This poem was first published in Agni, September 2015.
Josephine Yu’s first manuscript, Prayer Book of the Anxious, won the Judge’s Prize of the 15th Annual Elixir Press Poetry Awards and was published in 2016. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere, as well as in The Best New Poets 2008 and Old Flame: From the First 10 Years of 32 Poems Magazine. She has won Ploughshares’s Emerging Writers Contest, Meridian’s Editor’s Prize, and the New Letters Poetry Award.