How Prayer Works

Tucked away in our tiny bedroom so near each other

the edge of my prayer rug covered the edge of his, my

brother and I prayed. We were 18 and 11 maybe, or 19

and 12. He was back from college where he built his own

computer and girls kissed him on the mouth. I was barely

anything, just wanted to be left alone to read and watch

The Simpsons.


We prayed together as we had done thousands of times,

rushing ablutions over the sink, laying our janamazes out

toward the window facing the elm which one summer

held an actual crow’s nest full of baby crows: fuzzy, black-

beaked fruit, they were miracles we did not think to



My brother and I hurried through sloppy postures of

praise, quiet as the light pooling around us. The room

was so small our twin bed took up nearly all of it, and

as my brother, tall and endless, moved to kneel, his foot

caught the coiled brass doorstop, which issued forth a

loud brooong. The noise crashed around the room like a

long, wet bullet shredding through porcelain.


My brother bit back a smirk and I tried to stifle a snort

but solemnity ignored our pleas — we erupted, laughter

quaking out our faces into our bodies and through the

floor. We were hopeless, laughing at our laughing, our

glee an infinite rope fraying off in every direction.


It’s not that we forgot God or the martyrs or the Prophet’s

holy word — quite the opposite, in fact, we were boys built

to love what was right in front of our faces: my brother

and I draped across each other, laughing tears into our

prayer rugs.

Bibliographical info

Kaveh Akbar's "How Prayer Works" from Pilgrim Bell. Copyright © 2021 Kaveh Akbar. Used with permission from Graywolf Press. All rights reserved

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