Lauren Schmidt’s The Voodoo Doll Parade was selected by Terry Wolverton for the Main Street Rag Author’s Choice Chapbook Series. The profane becomes sacred under this poet’s unflinching attention, in earthy poems about illness, sex, and prayer (and sometimes all three tangled up in bed together). The heart of this chapbook is a series of unforgettable narratives about homeless and mentally disabled clients of The Dining Room, a soup kitchen in Oregon where the author volunteered. The poem below is reprinted by permission. See her author page on the MSR website for more samples and purchasing information. Please order books from MSR to support this excellent small press that publishes writing with a social conscience.
When I clear your table after you’ve gone, there’s a small scrap
of paper which reads: “God Bless You. You are Beautiful.
I Promise to Pray for You.” Pray for me? Pray for me?
Then pray for me that I wake up in the morning in a bed
and lie there, that I give my blessings their proper names
and faces, the blessings that keep me from a life too like
yours, pray for me. Because the first thought of my day
is hunger, pray for me that I eat. But pray for me that I know
hunger, pray for me. Pray for me that I feel myself in
the growl of your belly, that I remember I am more like you
than I remember, pray for me. Pray for me that I am Rodney
with his weary eyes who is all at once teacher, cousin,
neighbor, friend, and the stranger who held the door for me
when my arms were full of bags, please pray. Pray for me
that I am the woman with earth-rich skin. Pray for those hands
that slammed her plate face-down into the table for me to clean.
Pray for me that I know no such grief, pray for me.
Pray for me that I am Larry whose fingers shoot music
into the belly of the piano; those same seven songs spark
from its upright head. Pray for me that I have the comfort
of knowing what comes next, pray for me. Pray for me that I am
the blind man because the room knows to make room for him.
People move tables, chairs, themselves, part a path for him as if
he were a king. But pray for me that I make way, pray for me.
Pray for me that I am Amber with her Vaseline face,
whose words are frenzied centipedes that scatter from her lips
and braid above her head. She stares at them like a mobile
or a noose. She stares at them like she would a heaven. Pray for me
there’s a heaven. That the demons inked along Leanne’s spine
do not exist, pray for me. Pray for me that my back can carry
such blackness if it needs to, pray for me. Pray for me that I am
the pregnant girl who is allowed a second plate. Pray that I know
the power I hold in my body, for a tiny king can grow eyes in my body,
please pray. Pray for me that I am the man in this same room, seated
at another table, the man that gives the girl his milk. Pray for me
that I remember to give up my milk. Pray for me that I am the milk.