Short Prayer for a Fragile Life


I wrote this, my shortest poem ever, some years ago, and Black Rock Press, a Reno arts press associated with the University of Nevada, helped me turn it into a broadside. I keep the broadside in my bedroom, consider this little prayer all mine. But upon hearing of the passing of Senator Harry Reid, these few words struck me in ways new. Senator Reid once said, “I believe Nevada is a very sensitive state,” and if we consider sensitive to suggest sensory, all four of the nouns mean something essential about this place he loved and fought for:

Boots: I admit to owning about 50 pairs of cowboy boots, boots I’ve worn in every corner of Nevada, from Las Vegas to Lake Tahoe, from Ely to Elko, from Winnemucca to Tonopah. But when I think about boots, I also think of work boots, footwear worn by workers, so many of whom were essential to getting all of us through the last couple of years. My boot collection is certainly beautiful, folk art indeed, but also beautiful are the dusty boots worn by those who brought us groceries, heating oil, and news from the world. Senator Reid was known for his nice shoes, but he was also someone who knew how to stomp when he needed to, stir up some dust, get his work done.

Wind: In Nevada, our wind is ferocious. The Washoe Zephyr is wholly ours, and it can whip a wildfire into the summer thing we most fear. Just recently, winds closed the roads between Reno and Carson City, winds that reached about 100 mph. But wind also clears the smoke from our air, carries the rich petrichor that emanates off the sagebrush after a much-needed rain. And during windy days, the dozen windchimes hanging in my yard rattle and rustle, bring a music akin to church bells, urgent and gentle both. As was Harry Reid.

Water: Nevada is the driest state. Nevadans live in awe of water, know how precious and sacred it is, and those who most understand this treat water with respect, never waste a drop. We pray each winter for snowpack, for the possibility of sustenance. On the day Harry Reid died, it snowed.

Sky: Although Montana is officially Big Sky Country, we in Nevada also understand how the sky can overwhelm the landscape, how we live in largeness, no matter how small we seem individually. Senator Harry Reid knew this: our sky is almost always blue—and blue is exquisite, fragile, complicated, and sometimes sad. It’s the color of Nevada’s heart. 

Sunday, April 3rd, 3 pm, at the historic Silver City Schoolhouse, join Gailmarie as she reads some of her latest poems. Stay around for her free, poetry writing workshop. To reserve a seat at the poetry writing workshop, email Quest Lakes at

Find all of Gailmarie’s published work at your local bookstore here.

Gailmarie Pahmeier – image: David Calvert, courtesy of the Nevada Arts Council

Gailmarie Pahmeier has been a Nevadan for 37 years. Now Emerita, she taught creative writing and contemporary literature courses at the University of Nevada, where she was honored with the Alan Bible Teaching Excellence Award and the University Distinguished Teacher Award.  She is currently on the faculty of the low residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada University. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has garnered a number of awards and has been widely published in literary journals and anthologies. She is the recipient of three Artists Fellowships from the Nevada Arts Council, including the prestigious Major Project Fellowship. She is the author of The House on Breakaheart Road, The Rural Lives of Nice Girls, and Of Bone, Of Ash, Of Ordinary Saints (WSC Press, 2020, nominated for the High Plains Book Award), in addition to three chapbooks, one of which, Shake It and It Snows, won the Coal Hill Chapbook Award from Autumn House Press. She has received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts from the state of Nevada, has served the City of Reno as its first Poet Laureate, has been inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, and she has been recognized by Nevada Humanities as an Outstanding Teacher in the Humanities. In September of 2021, she accepted the position of Poet Laureate, State of Nevada, a 2-year gubernatorial appointment. She lives in Reno between the river and the railroad tracks with her husband, two exuberant dogs, and a couple of complicated cats.

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