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 the 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 in front of our faces: my brother and I
on the floor draped across each other, laughing tears into
our prayer rugs.

Kaveh Akbar, “How Prayer Works” from Pilgrim Bell. Copyright © 2021 by Kaveh Akbar.
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Graywolf Press,