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A Prayer

Sojourning just outside New Orleans, I often walked on the levee by Lake Pontchartrain. Near the Causeway, there was a mass of debris washed up from the lake and jumbled together like a carpet. As I remember, driving south into New Orleans, you could see it to your left.

One day - the year was 2002 – I decided to comb the debris for any sculptural pieces of driftwood – an old New Jersey habit. These I found. And with them, I found a prayer.

It was a small wooden board, less than a foot long, and an inch and a half thick. There were holes in it as if it had been nailed to something. If it had nails still in it, I removed them. It was an ordinary pine board. Most likely, it was once a piece of building scrap.

On one side was written – marked or incised:


This object fascinated me. Where had it come from? How had it come here? The nail holes showed that it had not been ritually thrown onto the waters; it must have been mounted to something – a dock? A boat? And a storm, a slip of the hand, a contemptuous heir had given it to the lake; and the lake had discarded it here.

Whether I took it with me, I do not now remember. I felt that it would be wrong to take it; or, having taken it, I felt that I had done something wrong, and carried it back. I walked around with it for some time, looking for a place for it. At length, landward of the levee, I lay it face-down beside a locked tool shed that I had never seen open.

It stayed there for a long time. Who took it; whether they threw it away, or kept it for themselves, or returned it to the lake – I do not know.

I tried.