Desert

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. (Matthew 4: 1-2 The Message)

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A dawn stroll,
a turning from the unaccustomed pressure,
the expectation, the speculation,
that spoke now in every eye,
a short walk to clear the mind,
just over the hill crest in the morning,
tasting of dew and the night sap
and breath of spined and armored plants—
the blooms too tender for the sun.

Noon found him miles beyond his intent,
spirit driven, intent on the way
the rocks melted in the light,
the way the shadows took
dimension until the world popped,
unpredictably,
between black on white and white on black,
the way every whisper of wind turned prophet,
speaking mysteries, drawing him on…

And that night,
the star-burned cinder-cold air came down,
pinned him, crucified him,
face pressed to the naked rock,
as the heat, day caught, leaked,
leached, through him and away.

By morning he was cold,
cleaner than he had ever been,
and thirsty.

He wrung the dew,
self-flavored,
from his robe and walked.

By the fourth dawn the sweat stopped beading,
became a silk breath in every pore,
balancing him, with the dew,
just at the brink of fever.

Day by day, step by step,
he watched his shadow grow thinner.

Waking and sleeping lost meaning,
changed places in his mind with
walk and rest so quietly he hardly noticed.

Sometimes the stars spoke above him,
the high and clear and distant chant
of his own heartbeat, sometimes they
came right down to the next hill crest
so that he walked into a wave of night sky,
parting it, fish like, among
the sparks and bubbles of light.

Sometimes the day reared up like
a curtain in front of him and,
like a man trapped inside a silk sack,
he forced his face through it until the flesh
pulled back to show the bone within.

Sometimes he woke to the dream of water
to find himself soaked in dew.
And, day by day,
the sun burned his shadow away.

There were days, there in the middle,
when everything went away but the walking,
when the whole of him, all that the sun left,
went into each step, and nothing left over,
when the universe contracted to a black spot,
a tunnel down which he half fell,
putting one foot in front of the other,
toward the dark at the end.

And then came the dawn he bit down
on the utter cinder of himself,
ground it to ash between his teeth,
sipped the dew from the ragged edge
of his sleeve, and spit himself out.

Did it thunder? Were there doves?

There were doves,
and a tiny seep from under a rock ledge,
a damp patch in the sand,
a bush with blooms of fire,
and the world came back with crashing cymbals,
with bells, with a finger of breeze
that turned the collar of his robe
until he shivered, and knew he was alive.

And now he walked knowing, seeking,
drinking in each moment,
looking behind each rock, eager,
over each hill, under every bush,
walking now toward himself and not away.

 

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