—"For man shall not see me, and live." Exodus 33:20
i. The Approach
From the burning, quiet sea
We struggle inland, over stone
And dry weeds, to the mountain.
The mountain stands, and does not change.
It is the mountain of God, from which
One can see the whole world.
It is a mountain of gold, cracked
And unpolished. Where the sun strikes,
Some of the shine breaks through.
The mountain hides everything beyond.
In evening, it darkens to its opposite:
Accumulations of purple, color of storm.
At night, stars shine, showing
A final coldness. The mountain's shape
Becomes an absence of stars.
ii. The Ascent
Without listening, we choose
The way we see, to struggle
Up the dry stone face.
Rock bruises our hands,
Burns our feet. Not daring
To look back, we climb
Toward a summit we can
No longer see, or name.
iii. On the Summit
At first, dawn is an idea:
An image of earth melting
Into valleys and folds.
We absorb wide heaven,
Where clouds drift and vanish
Under a rosy sun.
It is safe here, watching,
Burning in morning, but godlike,
Still able to choose.
As praise, we carve a stone,
A monument for the God of earth
And heaven, who balances here.
White hot sun bleaches the sky.
Without defining shadow, our obelisk
Looks small and bleak.
We give it a name, and wait.
iv. Descent to the Monastery
Searching for a cave, a spring,
A sign, we find a white temple
Full of words and symbols. Beyond,
The mountain's far slope. Pilgrims
In summer clothes climb and descend.
There are stairs carved in the rock
So they can pause at each step, souls
Progressing in discrete intervals.
And we come down from the pivot of sky
Not to what we left behind,
But to dark granite walls marked
With lambs and crosses. The net
Descends, we are approved, winched up
And over. A world behind triple walls,
Afraid of unbelief, where monks walk
In brown, chanting. Christ looks down,
Shattered and luminous. The cross
Grows from his head. One hand holds
The robe in classic folds, the other
Blesses. This is what we are allowed
To see, this pale man. But we lust after
The voice, the burning presence in the bush,
The real one, the sight that destroys.
v. On the Desert
In the clean blown sand, fences
Surround fields of bombs, waiting
Still, after ten years, to explode.
Nature is abrupt and violent here,
Highly visible, given to sudden storms,
Cracks of lightning with no warning,
Mists that rise in isolated columns,
Seas that blow away, birds falling
From exhaustion, trees dripping
With edible sap, water from stone.
It is easy to imagine God here,
And He brings with Him, we see,
So much terror. To own the land
Is to own Him. "I am God,"
Says the voice of death and fire.