who is wise?

when you enter the land of promise
you will not survive unless you
cut down the walls between
yourselves and others you must
learn from their ways gain
knowledge from their experience
grow compassion from their travail
and when you worship
your god look deep
into their eyes and know
that you are worshiping
theirs as
well.

(Deuteronomy 12:29-31)


chosen

French & British soldiers wounded in the same WW I battle treated at a British Casualty Clearing Station. Photo: David McLellan

you are not chosen rather
your fate has chosen you now
will your soul be ruled by
your oppression or will
you stand by the souls of the
oppressed will you wield your past
like a weapon of mass destruction
or will you let it fly free
release your pain like
bandages unfurled to bind
up the wounded no you
are not chosen
that choice is
yours to
make

(Deuteronomy 9:5-7)


you shall love

the love that burns deep in your heart
the love that consumes everything
all that you think you are and
might ever be
bequeath it to your children
breathe it exhale it
shout it in the streets
dream it in your sleep
sing it when you wake
bind it tightly to your limbs feel
it entering your bloodstream
nail it pound it into warped
splintered door jams
carve its name in hearts on trees
then leap back and watch
as branches shoot up
yearning toward
the heavens.

(Deuteronomy 6:5-9)


descent into seir

the lord said to the israelites you
have been dancing on the edge
of your dread far too long now
descend into the land of seir and don’t
be afraid remember the night you
struggled desperately against a
dark riverbank flying beads of water
shining in the moonlight like jewels
of tribute when morning
broke you embraced your
reflection and saw the face of
god
now head down into
the valley you will
see there is nothing
to fear

(Deuteronomy 2:2-5)


summer thunderstorm

the lord said to the israelites
when you go into the land
do not dispossess its inhabitants
for if you do you will see them at every turn
you will hear their distant voices
like insects buzzing on a humid summer night
you will feel their breath at your back
like the breeze that rises before a thunderstorm
whispering softly in your ear
everything you think you can possess
can always be washed away

(Numbers 33:50-55)


a eulogy for pinchas

when pinchas saw an israelite
man and a midianite woman together he was
was seized by a zealous spirit he took a
spear followed them into their chamber and
stabbed them both through the
belly so many years later when
the israelites’ friendship with the
midianites was scarcely a footnote in the
history books pinchas died and here’s
what they wrote in his obit
as the grandson of the high priest he
was involved in the assassinations of many
moabites and midianites including cozbi
daughter of zur a prominent tribal
chieftain who had saved many
israelites from their enemies
years later pinchas reflected
a man who goes forth to take the life of another
whom he does not know
must believe only one thing
that by his act he will
change the course
of history.

(Numbers 25:6-18, with Financial Times article, “Unflinching Support of Greater Israel,” by Julian Ozanne, adapted)


balaam and the beast

he flinches and bows as
the stick lands on his
neck again and again
out of the corner of his
good eye he sees the angel of the
lord gesturing sadly toward the
setting sun if god had endowed
him with the gift of speech he’d
say i thought maybe one day
day i’d carry the messiah
himself then his legs buckle
beneath him and he collapses
and dies on the
side of the
road

(Number 22:21-30)


no water from rock


when miriam died and the well
ran dry and israel’s arid soul
surged forth like sand in a
desert storm
moses tore open his robe
picked up his staff
and struck the rock over and
over and over there he remains
to this very day
sometimes when he dreams he
sees the face of god smiling in the rock
as it shatters into millions of
tiny shards but for now he’s still
flailing away at the hard stone
surface blinking away dry tears while the
the people howl at him in white hot
rage why did you make us leave egypt
to bring us to this wretched place
why there isn’t even
any water for us
to drink

(Numbers 20:1-11)


korach goes underground


now korach ben levi and his
followers challenged moses
and aaron saying
you have gone too far the end may
justify the means but only as long
as there is something that justifies the
end so what kind of a deal did you
cut with the man inside the tent
moses said no you have
gone too far son of levi he
told the people to stand back whereupon
the earth opened up to swallow korach and
there he remains hiding underground
like a seed preparing to blossom forth
in the spring or perhaps
a land mine buried
but not yet
detonated

(Numbers 16:1-34)


scouts report reimagined

joshua and caleb said the land
lays bare before us let us go in let us
possess it by force let its inhabitants
become our prey the
remaining scouts said no as soon
as we attack this land it will most
surely devour us have faith
in god do not fear
this country and its people
when the israelites gathered up
their weapons and raised
a battle cry god said
to moses listen can you hear
that doesn’t it sound like the song
of the enslaved the cry of
fear bequeathed to the
children the sound
of carrion slowly
rotting away in the
wilderness

(Numbers 13:27-33, 14:1-12, 26-35)