Prayer for the Hill

A poem by Gary Duehr

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May the single mother

Who for her kids demands an answer

On where to turn for prescription money, be heard.

May the retiree, who’s going through a hard

Stretch, who has to pause to take a breath

Before he finds the right words to express the breadth

Of his anger, be listened to.

May the Iraq vet, deployed three times, who

Can’t stop seeing what he saw, begin to cohere

His rambling diatribe into a single clear

Plea: Help me.

May an inmate, who admits that he

Sold smack to all those people, receive

A second try. May his wife and family believe

He’s not a lost cause; he still has dreams.

For all the aides and interns, hear everyone who seems

Out of luck: a mechanic who can’t find

Work. A teacher who lost her job. A migrant whose mind

Fills with worry. Without papers, he’s afraid

To go to the cops for help—will there be a raid?

A father sends his medical bill.

A mother asks if her daughter will

Be ok, her Jewish daycare was evacuated after

A bomb threat. Every phone call, tweet, and letter

Piles in, hour by hour, 1.5 million a day.

What do they want? A human answer, a way

To stay connected, a live voice.

Anything, in these uncertain times, but Hobson’s choice:

Take it or leave it. But how could you leave

An unemployed land surveyor

Who clasps his rough hands in thanks at supper

Every night, seeking relief?


Gary Duehr has taught poetry and writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Poetry Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Journals in which his poems have appeared include Agni, American Literary Review, Chiron Review, Cottonwood, Hawaii Review, Hotel Amerika, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. His books of poetry include In Passing (Grisaille Press, 2011), THE BIG BOOK OF WHY (Cobble Hill Books, 2008), Winter Light (Four Way Books, 1999) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press, 1999).

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