Winter is about loss
of light. You’d think
our planet is closer
to the sun in the summer,
but no, Earth’s at perihelion
in winter. It’s the slant of light
and shorter length of time
the sun blazes across horizons
that accounts for the coldness.
Torchlights singe the late night air and the kicked-up dust glows on the path to the inn. A man in a brown robe leads the donkey, each step measured. His wife, wrapped in a wool shawl, stays the autumn chill. For a moment, she must stop, grips the nape of the donkey’s neck, and winces, as before, bracing for the next contraction. He steadies her, wonders if Mary’s okay. She relaxes her hold and smiles, but the harvest moon glinting off her eyes belies her calm assurance. As sure as ebb and flow, the next wave of pain cannot be quelled—her hands pressing her belly as if to stem the tide. Joseph’s feet, no longer downtrodden by fatigue, rush him to the inn. He raps on the oaken door as if his fists were made of brass. But his own would have him not. Go Away! A gruff voice rumbles through the wood. There are no more rooms. Those words echo in the desperate air with Mary’s cries. Yet, there is a shuffle of shoes. A clenched-jaw voice on the other side of the door seeps through, Jacob. Let them in! The innkeeper’s eyes wedge, Yes, Eliana. She stokes the fire, pots clacking on the coals. Water boils. He shows them to the straw-crib behind the house, where the sheep lay.
Capernaum, 30 AD
Four men shuffle their sandals down the dirt
and camel-dunged road bearing their friend
warped with palsy on stretched, brown cloth.
They press through crowds standing dead
in their way to the mud brick dwelling—doorway
glutted with the sick, windows gasping sultry air.
On the roof, fig trees faint, grapes grovel for cool
moist dirt. Overgrown, the garden guards entrance
to the room beneath a straw-hatched door.
Inside the house, the Healer moves among
the sick, and the frankincense of his garment
breezes the air. Radiance spills from his hem,
a cooling glow dispels fever. Thy cluster near him.
Above, the palsied man, held up by the strong
faith of his friends, waits for his touch—for the Light.
Afflicted eyes clear, cataracts fall like dead scales.
Twisted limbs grow straight as the green shoot
seeking the high sun. Obscure spirits flee.
When he is done well into the middle of night,
he goes to pray in the cool of the garden among
fig trees and vines, now lifting high in his light.
In the mauve of dawn, the fishing village is quiet,
boats bob in the ebb, and black basalt cliffs shadow
nets laying empty after sieving the platinum sea
…but only for a little while.
Near Capernaum, 2030 AD
Ziv Medical Center (Bar-Ilan University)
A man lies on a gurney, in tremors from paralysis,
waits for the good doctor to touch him with his hands,
with instruments that will bring him some comfort.
His wife and children at his side, the sweet
fragrance of prayer mixes with a hint of sea
masking the sterile wisps of antiseptics.
The physicians, gathered in a small room
before their rounds, quietly praise the Healer,
seek his guidance from a shelf full of books—
Gray’s Anatomy, Principles of Biochemistry by White,
black binders with New England Journal of Medicine,
all stacked on leather of the Torah—the scent
of Jehovah Rapha rising from its pages, faith
incandescing the darkness. The light in the room
is not dim.
Author’s Note: Inspired by the healing of the man with palsy—a paralysis, especially that which is accompanied by involuntary tremors—in the Bible (Mark 2:1-5). Peter’s house was likely excavated by Italian archeologists (Biblical Archaeology Review 8:6, November/December 1982). Also see Bible History Daily https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-sites/the-house-of-peter-the-home-of-jesus-in-capernaum/
After Dudley Randall
“Oh, Mother, I’ll be fine today.
I’m just going to see my friend, Pat.
Don’t worry, I’ll be home by eight.
Please don’t forget to feed my cat.”
“Be careful, Son, a storm is coming—
clouds of black men are on the rise.
They have chains and clubs, and crying
anger from their blood-shot eyes.”
She heard rumors about him:
there’s always a demon
to cast out, the sick as hell
and turned out the lights,
I heard my mother pray
with all the others.
The room stank
like stables. Foul air
burned my nostrils.
Soon, moans replaced
the prayers. I wondered
about the promised water.
When the valves creaked
open, I felt no water,
only something invisible
on my skin. We were naked
as the truth that could not be
hidden any longer.
My mother squeezed me
to her bossom—I never liked
the smell of almonds.
The last thing I heard was
the sweet sound of violins,
the trumpeting of angels.
First published in A Quiet Courage: A Journal of Microfiction and Poetry in 100 Words or Less (November 2015).
Author’s Notes: The order to exterminate the Jews was signed in July 1941. At Triblenka II, the path leading from the undressing barracks (many were fooled into thinking they would be getting hot showers) through the forested area into the gas chambers was cynically called die Himmelstraße (the road to heaven). But the killing process at Treblinka—suffocation and carbon monoxide poisoning—differed significantly from the method used at Auschwitz and Majdanek, where the poison gas was hydrogen cyanide (which has the smell of almonds).
Clear water plunges through the sandstone basin,
tumbles over lead-gray limestone. Fragments worn
smooth, edges rounded.
He stands amidst the stream, surveys the bottom
between the ripples all the way to where the sky
edges the water’s mirror. He kneels in the stream bed,
rifles for pebbles matching caliber of the sling-pocket
of his leather-thronged catapult. His fingers search,
One Christmas morning, I remember the soft-needled pine towering, as if through the spackled ceiling, its angel brushing the clouds.
Sun sets behind sculpted land
in silhouette against sheer veil of night
dyed shades of Pacific blue.