…it was I who taught Ephraim to walk…
In truth, I teach this child very little.
So much is sheer instinct, determination,
what HR would call “get up and go”.
But there’s little of HR, more of
the deep-sea diver
or the alchemist at his art,
to how this small enthusiast takes
to his knees, then feet, then –
I did not teach him this.
No, this has a deeper logic,
one taught to joints and sinews,
flowing in marrow, raising from soil
to soul, teaching the human spirit
Best is the Father who says, Let it Be, and all Is.
Best the Father who teaches Baby Father me
to bounce the pensive child and sing
a song in the night for dreams.
For I too, often reduced to a crawl,
must also learn, down in the sinews and the marrows of the self
the truth that says, Rise up and walk.
I for one enjoy it:
the slow, steady bursting from soil,
those optimistic points of green poking sunward,
the outward spread of tiny tufts,
the promise of patience rewarded.
And so daily I take my little son outside
to see the garden, to “check on the grass”.
All moments are wonders to him, yet I
share the wonder of brown transformed to slow-filling lawn,
the chance that next summer he’ll have carpet for play here,
and I marvel that all our endurance pays off.
I am less inclined to love how stone turns to flesh,
fighting – as it must – against the moss and ivy surrounding it;
less inclined to delight in the decades that it takes
for internal soil to be tilled,
for pruning, manure, for all that needs patience
and costs me myself.
While I daily visit these microscopic green thoughts,
my own garden I have neglected.
Turn over the clumps of dirt; wait another year;
my stubborn tree must one day show fruit.
Hope deferred finds patience no virtue.
Something ends here:
paused mid-threat, flung groundward,
the man called Saul can breathe no more murder
while the horse kicks up its hooves and he points
his arms half-desperate at heaven.
Something begins here
yet it looks altogether like dying:
the fall, the pervasive dark,
the eyes failing to see, and yet
the spirit cognisant like never before.
I will show him how much he must suffer.
All this awaits, after the falling of scales;
now is the dying; the blindness preceding sight.
Must resurrection look like this?
With groans of creation, Saul will rise,
and Paul will live anew.
Unintentionally, I keep vigil the night before
while my son, restless for the dawn,
unsettled by the changing of the clocks,
bids me stay awake and pray.
Some sleep gained before sunrise, yet when the lights comes
it feels somehow the natural outworking of the night,
for I’ve walked through all its stations,
met its passing watches.
And when it’s time
to take off the rags of sleep and roll back the stone for the sun,
day seems natural, an arrival at home.
Yet when it comes I am weary,
ready to return to night,
and when night comes the routine
of dishes and rubbish bins consumes
the wonders of the vigil past.
Sun and moon and clocks distract:
in spite of us, eternity wins each linear day
and Grace keeps vigil over tapering hearts.
What have I done with the food you gave me?
The bread of life grows mould where I left it.
The leaven of self sickens and spoils.
Puffed up by bread alone, no Word, I am fat and famished.
In the desert of abundance, Lord have mercy.
All the kingdoms of the world dangle before you.
Only a bend of the knee will give them to you.
I bend at the first offer of reprieve.
Forty days can only show my nest of callow vipers.
In the desert of my failing, Christ have mercy.
You flap your dove’s wings above living water,
Yet I am bent on brackish wastelands.
I draw brine and bile from my spirit’s well.
I vent spleen upon your ever-flowing fountain.
At the oasis of contrition, Lord have mercy.
We travel through cosmic debris.
All the time a war wages – starshower missiles,
The mayhem is our doing.
Harmony – meant to be sung –
ended with us.
Begin again with us.
From ashes we stand,
cupped hands opened to receive,
to re-enter Your orbit.
History has few exemplars to be proud of.
The Greeks did well with Priam, at least,
willing to face “iron-hearted,
man-slaying Achilles” for the sake of a son.
My own culture’s replete with absent men,
“bronze Anzacs” taught from birth not to cry.
The Biblical witness, too, leaves something to be desired:
most too busy with wives in multiples to see
sons ganging up on sons, hurling into ditches,
covering many-coloured garments with blood.
Some simply could not hear, over
the chewing of fruit, the sound of the older
saying to the younger brother, “Come for a walk.”
One king learnt too late that all
the years at war, or watching rooftop baths,
did not teach a son to trust or respect his old man.
Only this cry rings out as a lesson: “Absalom,
my son, my son! Would that it were me instead of you.
Absalom, my son, my son. Absalom, my son!”
Perhaps the polygamists, war-mongers and liars
have this to teach us: the insufficiency of one
man of dust to be the all, the end, of the home.
In his frailty and deceit he clears the way
for another tale, another sight:
the wealthy man embracing pig-stained rags,
the fattened calf killed,
the Father’s arms stretched.
This witness alone can teach the twisted tongue
the meaning of our faintly-voiced, “Father.”