Abu Golgotha, The Red and the Green
By the river of Babylon, regard
the clump of main battle tanks dozing
like hippos in the dust. Centurions
in desert camouflage and flak jackets
play poker on a sandbag. Boys wading
in the reed-shallows fill gasoline cans
with water. A robed man vending ices,
cherry, lemon, lime; a rifled cohort,
warning each car that edges forward
to stop, be identified at gunpoint,
proceed or turn back. Clusters of women
trail each other's feet, pomegranates, figs,
eggplants in baskets, honeycakes oozing
through muslin, and the week is over, God
is great, goats bleat in line to the butcher stall.
Mutton-smoke drifts up from cauldron and grill.
Idle artillery ticks in the heat.
How near, the walled compound where Christ's
sweaty head is crowned by a canvas bag.
His cross, a five gallon plastic pail, white
as the underwear they've stripped him down to,
the pail upside down in a wading pool
blue as a crayon sky, brimmed with water.
No need for a crosspiece or iron nails.
His arms stretch out, the familiar gesture,
each wrist encircled by a rosary
of telephone wire. Fish swim in the pool,
goldfish, fighting fish, exotics like chips
of a stained glass window, broken, alive
at his feet. He's tied to the same current
that powers the televisions on which
heís displayed for the world to judge. Mercy
and grace are not controlled by a remote,
its on/off switch is not in his hands. Put
his hands to your chest, ask, Is this heart mine,
these hands his? How long have you been staring
at the world through honeyed muslin, lord of
the remote? Blind beneath the bag, those eyes
suffuse his torso with a seeing beamed
against the red screen of your closed eyelids.
When you open those eyes, he's projected
onto every wall outlining your safety:
living room, kitchen, bedroom, bath-mirror,
rearview mirror, each car window, until
he is your horizon, your distant beacon.
In this way the disciples are summoned,
in this way, betrayers identified.
This is how battle tanks are dismantled,
how men throw off helmets beneath the sun.
The pomegranateís farewell to grenades,
the fig's valediction to cluster bombs.
You may get there, trailing the veiled women,
keeping your eyes lowered, trusting their feet.
How long he has kept balance there, waiting,
the room where he stands brother to the room
where you sat. Step into the water, prepare
for a shock: only you can help him down.
THE RED AND THE GREEN
The town sprawled beneath its highest hill is shot through
with clatter of jackhammer and nailgun, clatter
of scrub jay, canyon jay. Of lawn machinery
and street machinery diminishing, feathery
echoes in valley haze. On this hill, wind is overlord,
high judge whose silent deliberations impose
silence on the ones who come by foot from the river.
Lord, consider one who ate nothing all day so
his dog could eat and make this hike with him to lay
by the concrete acres of the reservoir, who believes
there's no reason to be alive but here, where oaks
and cottonwoods amplify your breath, which quiets
the valley, which makes your dry, perpetual surf. If he
has to go without food another day, better
here by the silence of hoarded water, this slope
that is your shore. Most days he's beneath everything
beneath you. Here, a blackberry runner extends
its five-fingered leaves and green nubbin-fruits.
How many days would he have to lie still to see
green ripen to sour red? As many days as red
takes to blacken. Lord, drop black in his mouth. By then
he will be cuffed and wrapped in bramble, light almost
as the clothing that slides and slips from his frame,
a cotton husk. And that might be the enlightenment
he hears nothing about in the gospel mission,
in the church shelter where hunger and fatigue led him
to soup and a cot, to endure watching a fat man
with bible in one hand and broom in the other drive
his dog away from the entrance. So he would endure
another Sermon on the Mount and clean his table
to pocket two potatoes for the one he ate
to locate his dog the next morning, for the dog
is the last way he can see his own soul, and keep it
moving some days, like this, ascending where the wind,
if it fails, fails only a minute. No matter
how high he hikes above town, he's headed steadily
down, Lord, through remaining babyfat, through muscle
and belief, down to the lank-haired helmet of skull,
white armor of bone.
When part of the machinery
last, he carried a belt of grenades, oversized
green fruit with power to ripen black and red at once.
The boy who broke from a cluster of boys advanced
at him chattering like a jay, holding a red can,
and red means gasoline, means fireball. Red meant stop,
so he yelled, Stop, pushing outward with his hands, Stop!
and the boy stopped chattering, turned to face friends
with a shrug. They pushed hands in the air, too, meaning
Go. As though the small, forbidding wind he made
with his hands was contested by their bigger wind
of encouragement, in which the boy spun round, raised
the gas can, and began to trot forward with an odd
canine grin. He was only following protocol
to release the grenade's pin, lob, count, and crouch
behind his sandbagged checkpoint. When the smoke cleared
all boys were gone except the one who lay in the road
staring at his legs, sheared off at the knee. The man stood
over him, rifle aimed at his chest. The boy shook
his head, amazed, touched his lips with two fingers, then
pointed out the canteen on the man's belt. They had both
gotten it wrong. The man slung the rifle, unhooked
his canteen, knelt to place it in the boy's hands. Not wrong
to thirst, Lord, if the one vessel he could scrounge to beg
American water was red, red was the right color.
The boy's tongue of want had been harmless as birdsong
and now he was failing at the man's feet, failing fast.
As he drank, the man scooped him up. Medic! he shouted
and began to trot. Medic, murmured the boy in his arms,
Abba, light-boned as a fallen fledgling. How long,
Lord, has he borne that boy's deadweight within? When
did he choose to give that boy his own legs and eyes?
Let the boy listen, then, to invisible surf
at this remove, since he has been shown the cardboard
camps along the river where many became men
without bed or family, packing home on their backs,
who lie tipped over in the alley like redfaced cans
leaking. Let the boy see the man's soul before him,
a speckled animal who guards his footsteps and waits.
There is less and less difference among them where
they lie beside this high monument to water.
Break the lock, Lord, open the water's door.
Already they know the wind is your surf.
Until they die of thirst let them watch it pour down
upon the city at your feet. Cover them both
in five-fingered leaf, in protective thorn, and hide
the black fruit of your name in their mouths, and let
the dog go back, following a dependable scent
down as far as the river where longlegged boys
shirtless for August, up to their thighs in the current,
stand launching great splashes at each other's face,
windmilling the surface with the flat of their palms,
drenched with explosions of laughter and water.