Edited and introduced by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc.

For those who believe, the honest, pleading voice with which one talks to a higher power is similar to the voice one finds in a poem. This week’s poem has for its title an old word for prayer. Betsy Sholl, a former Maine State Poet Laureate and author of eight books, moves the poem forward with a sly use of sound and a hidden narrative.

Rather than using any regular pattern of rhyme, Sholl’s poem riffs on consonant and vowel sounds. We hear the chiming of words like “back,” “jacket,” and “locket” or “thin slippers,” “sunglint,” and “sleetspit.” These sounds give the poem a haunting sonic surface.

As is sometimes the case with poems, we don’t know the full story. The speaker wants to “give back to God” a bunch of things, as one might after a breakup. We don’t know what’s caused the breakup in question – maybe some great sorrow or loss? – but what’s clear by the end of the poem is that it’s caused her to doubt everything.


By Betsy Sholl


Let me give back to God

his jacket, his locket,

his thin slippers,

sunglint, sleetspit, stars.

And here’s my cracked,

my sullen, unstrung


guitar, hung like a rabbit

in the butcher’s window,

a hole in the belly

where a song should be.

Emptiness only

emptiness can see—

Let this be my prayer.

Does anything belong to me?

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2013 Betsy Sholl. First published in The Beloit Poetry Journal, 2013, and appears here by permission of the author.

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