“I love this tightly wrought, vivid poem by Ondrej Pazdirek. It reveals something new to me each time I read it. America is not homogenous or easy, nor is it really what’s outside the window or the self. I love the interior excavation in this poem and the particularity of its elegy. The gloom and impossible mountains, the speaker locked away but not yet unable to speak of a synesthetic isolation. Recalling for me American writers like John Wieners (“America, you boil over”) and others who come to us from the margins of what others want to so easily name (“America”). The poem begins in the sky and ends with a gorgeous admission of the self in relation to others: “the two concrete sidewalks I poured,” walked on, seen or unseen, by “anyone with money.” I pray like this too, I pour over the small objects of my (American) life and I feel them cohere into something bigger than a word for God. This poem moves me further inside myself, gathering strength to go out again.”

Judge, Wendy Xu

A Small American Prayer

by Ondřej Pazdírek

Kettle clouds, tumbleweeds, slow-moving cattle,
America I feel frothy, a boiled, soft chicken skin,
I lick my gloom and tear my seams, I stay in.

Horns of a truck, gator’s blood, swing of a bat,
America tumble me happy, whisper me sad,
triumphant tales to sleep, fill me with whales

like snowy mountains, obsession and apotheosis,
wrap me in fleece. America, what do I have
to show you for my liquid life’s concentric ripples

but a few egg-shaped stones, locked glass doors
and funny mirrors, and the two concrete sidewalks I poured,
but a few trinkets made for me or anyone with money.

Ondřej Pazdírek is a Czech-American poet and translator. His poems and translations have most recently appeared in Poet Lore, Phoebe, Columbia Poetry Review, and Guernica, and are forthcoming from PANK, Western Humanities Review, Gulf Coast, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Two Lines, among others. He lives in Iowa City.