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Poetry Moment: Toi Derricotte and 'A little prayer to our lady'

Steve Pestrock
Poet Toi Derricotte

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “A little prayer to our lady” by Toi Derricotte.

Toi Derricotte is the author of six collections of poetry, including “I” New and Selected Poems, as well as a literary memoir, The Black Notebooks. For her work as a writer, Derricotte has received numerous accolades, including the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American poets and the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America. With Cornelius Eady, Derricotte co-founded Cave Canem, an organization that supports and promotes the work of Black poets. A long-time resident of Pittsburgh, Derricotte is Professor Emerita at the University of Pittsburgh.

Christmas decorations have been in stores since October, and we’re being bombarded by messages to shop early and continuously to revel in the season. Yet in the midst of all this, festivities of a different sort are also taking place. One of these is happening this week.

On December 8, Catholics across Pennsylvania and the globe will celebrate the annual Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In the spirit of the veneration of the figure of Mary and of all women, I offer Toi Derricotte’s spare and beautiful praise poem. “A little prayer to our lady” showcases Derricotte’s signature use as a poet of quotidian detail and plain-spoken language to gesture toward what is profound. In reverential tones, the poem renders an ordinary woman going about her ordinary day and rising to the level of the divine.


A little prayer to our lady

so all day i
go by the little xmas tree bulb (orange) in the
altar of shells that i
set up & keep
lit at the top
of the stairs    so that
rising now     i rise
to praise
her   to remember the sacredness of my
work   perhaps she likes orange
light thrown softly
against her   for she looks
divine   my house seems richer
more alive   less lonely
with her here   i am allowed
to believe

That was “A little prayer to our lady” by Toi Derricotte.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with me today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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