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The Basket Weaver

“I do not believe your stories,” she thought to herself. “All the promises of Father Abraham, the promises of Israel — how we are a mighty nation, more numerous than the stars.”

“And yet,” she thought, “Here we are — enslaved. Here we are, building monuments for kings we’re not supposed to serve, for gods whose names are not supposed to rest on our lips.” 

“Perhaps you grow angry when we choose to worship other gods we know to be grotesque or fickle, other gods we know to be made of stone.”

“Perhaps you would also forgive us our frustration for generations of silence.” 

“My father’s father did not hear you. He sowed love and reaped nothing. He toiled, and prayed, and grew crooked with work, and he did not hear from you. When he died, he told us of the words his father’s father heard from you — those words passed down from his father’s father.”

“See how far we must reach back to speak of when we spoke with you?"
"See how trembling our hands are as we reach back into dark?”

“How more joyful might we be to hear your words fresh on our ears as rain — like hot coals might your presence seem to our unaccustomed skin.” 

“But I can learn, Elohim. We can learn if you speak to us.” 

“I am not proud of these bricks, but these are the things I see. I am not proud of these idols, but these are the things I know.”  

“What is worse, Adonai — to worship a God you know is false, or to love a God you know to be real but who refuses to speak?”

“We are told our ancestors wrestled angels, and saw visions of ladders ascending to heaven. You gave them dreams that saved from jail and protected us from famine. They made covenants with you and built arks for you. They walked with you in gardens.” 

“You turned us to salt and provided a sacrifice to save Isaac.”
“You flooded the earth and painted colors across the sky.”
“And now, we are steeped in mud. We are entombed in lives that are not our own.” 
“Still, we pray. And our masters think us foolish.”
“Still, we pray. And I think us foolish also.” 
“But I believe, still.”

+    +    + 

She thought as she wove, and she prayed, and she wept. 

The child fought against the swaddling. She tucked the cloth back and rested her hand on his shoulder. “Peace, Moses. Peace. Your mother loves you. Your mother loves you so much.”

She paused, and noticed her hands, scratched and coarse due to the weaving of the reeds, held against his soft skin; against his unblemished face. “Though I will not see him grow,” she thought, “at least he will have something in common with me…”

“…He will not know the touch or voice of the one who claims to love him most…”
“…He will have to believe as I believe.”

And then, still weeping, she closed the basket. 

infancy

      ”It is cold,” she thinks. “And dark.” 
     Her cloak frays at the edges, the long journey and excessive wearing having taken a toll on the fabric. Her husband cleared several small manure piles in order to provide a clearing, and now she sits, cross-legged, against a beam. Rings of dried blood stain both their fingernails, on account of handling the newborn. Joseph regrets not asking the innkeeper for a wash basin. He glances over at the trough, but hesitates before suggesting they wash their hands in the oxen’s drinking water.      
     Despite the chill, sweat appears on Mary’s forehead. She trembles, and chastises herself for doing so. “Don’t shake,” Mary tells herself. “You’ll wake the baby.”  
     “Don’t shake,” she intones, again and again. “Be still.”
     Bits of hay stick to the cloth. Joseph wrapped it, his hands steadier than hers, but his palms felt coarse on her neck and she brushed him away soon afterward. “Carpenter hands,” thinks Mary. “I don’t need carpenter’s hands. I need soft hands; steady hands prepared for a child.” Mary examines the crimson prints on the cloth, wondering which belong to her, and which belong to her husband.
     Joseph, though young, already bears marks of apprenticeship, having worked under an older carpenter for several years. He stands over Mary, who holds their child close to her breast. His eyes shift from the child’s face, to Mary’s crown, and lastly to the beam supporting both wife and child.
     Joseph notes the knots in the wood and guesses internally at the age of the beam, as well as the stable itself. He steps away, as quiet as he can, and examines the pieces of wood which form the stable wall. “Good choices,” thinks the young carpenter, “though many pieces will need replacing soon, especially if it rains as much as it did last season.” His hand traces the lines in the wood.
     He spies a crack in one of the pieces, just below the ceiling. “Ah,” he thinks, proud of himself for noticing, “there’s a piece that needs fixing right now. Maybe I’ll fix it in return for allowing Mary and the baby to stay the night. It wouldn’t take long at all to repair.” Joseph pauses to take in the night stars, shining through the slits in the stable ceiling.
     He hears the baby coo, and his eyes fall down to wife and child. Joseph remembers the steam rising from his child’s infant skin; a chorus of smoke plumes, as if he was born on fire. “Is everything alright?”
     Mary lifts her head to Joseph and nods. “Fine, Joseph, fine.” Her eyes focus on one rose print in particular; one she knows as hers. “Joseph.”
     “Yes?”
     “Did the…the…” The words lodge in her throat. They feel too sharp, too large to speak. 
     “What is it, Mary?” His hands return to her neck, but this time they feel softer, more tender. Mary inhales, exhales. Her eyes turn from the print and meet his stare. 
     “Did the — angel — when it — when he spoke…did his words make sense to you?”
     Joseph’s eyes don’t break from Mary’s. He smiles, and kisses her forehead. “…No.”
     Mary nods, and smiles. And then her sight returns to the baby, whose palm tumbles down the back of her fingers; tide by tide, learning the hand of his mother. A tear falls, landing square on the baby’s forehead, in the exact location where Joseph kissed her own forehead. She laughs, and the baby stirs.
     Mary, warmed by the child, whispers. “Peace, child. Peace.”

How Do Angels Get Their Wings?

 

MOMMY, MOMMY, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

When they hold onto babies who shake and shiver in new-hot-birth,
rattling lungs speaking in tongues discernible only to the Lord of Hosts
and the bleeding mothers.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

DADDY, DADDY, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

By Christ’s calm in maelstrom,
through child-laughter in an earthquake,
the holler at the snap of the bough-break, 
scaling cloud-faces and swiping at angels’ heels.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” 

BROTHER, BROTHER, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

The soldier, dying in the foxhole, 
as petrified as childhood trees, 
lost amongst metal-swirl
and snow-dirt-blood-blast, 
his heart shouts for God but his tongue calls him a motherfucker
and a vengeful sonuvabitch.
He screams and he screams, and his heart is as open as ocean water,
and by the time his whelps have clipped the treetops, 
they are rid of dross and come forth as gold.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” 

SISTER, SISTER, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

The old man with the little girl — the child.
Gray eyes meet green flame, his hatred of self passed between them —
Here he makes himself known and here she makes herself nothing.
Here he is most and here she is least.
Here he is cannibal and here she is feast.
He cloaks himself in the body of the licorice-black hair and tiny, unknown hands.
His exposure and her concealment,
his sound and her silence,
his living and her dying,
and all the while every move is the shriek-violin-bow over tuned strings, the lung-swell animation of clarinet, oboe, bassoon, flute, french horn, trombone, trumpet. 

Every move is scream and song and symphony.

Every evil sits side by side with every grace, 
every groan and scowl and howl and heap of chuckles and lover’s throbs,
every teardrop and tremble, every smile and every finger of every hand pressed to every back as part of every hand as part of every embrace, transubstantiated, from morsels of love and hate and longing and dying and dream and cowardice and despising and lament and shaking awake-awake-AWAKE and thump-thumping and blood-spewing sword-flash fire-breath —

All dutifully borne on the wings of angels.
And such glorious, voluminous wings are they —
that fearfully, wonderfully, thru night and day, them angels proclaim —
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”