American Life in Poetry: Column 357

The title of this beautiful poem by Edward Hirsch contradicts the poem, which is indeed a prayer. Hirsch lives in New York and is president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, one of our country’s most distinguished cultural endowments.

I Was Never Able To Pray
Wheel me down to the shore

where the lighthouse was abandoned

and the moon tolls in the rafters.

Let me hear the wind paging through the trees

and see the stars flaring out, one by one,

like the forgotten faces of the dead.

I was never able to pray,

but let me inscribe my name

in the book of waves

and then stare into the dome

of a sky that never ends

and see my voice sail into the night.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Edward Hirsch, whose most recent book of poetry is The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Reprinted from the Northwest Review, Vol. 48, No. 2, 2010, by permission of Edward Hirsch and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.