Sharon Olds

Now I Lay Me

It is a fine prayer, Now I lay me 
down to sleep, the power of the child
taking herself up in her arms
and laying herself down on her bed
as if she were her own mother,
Now I lay me down to sleep, 
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
her hands folded knuckle by knuckle,
feeling her heart beating in the knuckles.
Knees on the fine dark hair-like hardwood
beams of the floor, she commended herself
to the care of some reliable keeper
so that all night there might be a part of her
no one could touch. Unless while God had that part
she did not have it, but lay there a raw
soulless animal for someone to do dirt on . . .
If I should die before I wake seemed
possible, some nights, the father with the blood
on his face, the mother down to eighty-two pounds, it was a
mark of doom and a benison
to be able to say I pray the Lord 
my soul to take - the chance that, dead,
she would be safe for eternity, which was
much longer than one of those bad nights -
she herself could see, each morning, the
blessing of the white dawn, like some true god coming,
she could get up, and wade in the false
goodness of another day.
It was all fine except for the word take,
word with the k like a claw near the end of it.
What if the Lord were another one of those takers,
what if the Lord were no bigger than her father,
what if those noises through the wall were not
her mother and father struggling to do it
or not do it, what if those noises
were the sound of the Lord wrestling with her father
on the round bedroom rug, and what if the
Lord, who did not eat real food,
got weaker, and her father, with all he ate
and drank, got stronger, what if the Lord
lost? God bless Mommy and Daddy 
and Sister and Brother and Grama and Grampa 
in Heaven, and then the light went out,
the last of the uneasy kisses,
and then she was alone in the dark,
and the darkness started to grow there, in her room,
as it liked to do, and then the night began.

spoken = Ayelet Firstenberg