Issue 155, Summer 2000
In evening light's splayed radiance,
in a field of scrub and vines hedging a river,
a boy found a black snake sunning itself.
When he crouched near, his face bloomed in its scales
so the snake's coils were crowded with his eyes.
I almost want to leave him there, dawning
with amazement, this boy dead centuries now
and hushed in weak soil, leave him before
he flares with too much certainty.
But like every moment, this one brims over.
He'd dreamt of angels, arranged in slow descent
above the field, calling, and so he came
to meet them, to feel his soul quiver and strain
as they approached from a cracked sky with word
from Christ above. All day he waited.
He watched villagers cross the field.
An old man stumbled by, crying,
who always wept without a reason anyone knew.
One morning, the village had awakened to find him,
a stranger, wailing and filthy on the church steps.
But the old man wouldn't enter the church,
had torn free of the hands that tried to lead him.
At first the villagers had thought he was a prophet.
They'd heard of such men, wandering the towns.
They'd waited for him to speak, to preach, but nothing.
The boy watched some children by the river
who tossed mud in long, fraying arcs.
An older boy and girl ran, laughing,
toward a stand of ankle-thin pines,
glancing over their shoulders at what never followed.
A woman offered a loaf from a basket of bread
but the boy said no, turned his eyes from hers,
told her he couldn't eat until the angels arrived.
She waved his words off with a thrust of her hand
as though to knock the winged host to the earth.
Later, staring at the stone-littered ground,
he saw a wide arc of wings pass
but a cawing gave the crow away before
he raised his head. Perhaps waiting wasn't enough.
He thought of prayer, intoning the thin peal
of his plea in the failing light, his voice probing
as a key to unlock the shell of sky above.
But what if it was the wrong key, and the sky
never opened, and the first piercing sweetness
never crossed, fluttering, into his world?