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A prayer

[This is true.]

Sojourning just outside New Orleans, I often walked on the levée by Lake Pontchartrain. Beside the way, 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, in 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:

GOD SAVE US FROM THE STORM

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. Perhaps I felt that it would be wrong to take it; perhaps, having taken it, I felt that I had done something wrong, and brought it back. I walked around with it for some time, looking for a place for it. At length, landward of the levée, 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.