Isaiah Stumbling

Isaiah Stumbling

Stumbling from the Temple, half-blinded
by the glory of the Lord on his throne,
Isaiah looks upon Jerusalem
with a jaundiced eye. The sacrifice scent
fills his nostrils up, and a smoky haze
makes illusory the visible world.
How can reality compete with that sight.
For a moment, he sees all times and places,
folded as puzzles of origami,
original like a garden, like sin.
His lips, his tongue, burn; the seraphim’s coal
has scarred him, more than he realizes, yet.
Already vision fades, becomes rumor
and the shadow of incensed memory:
Fluid as smoke is the praise of Israel,
while Rabbis argue in the porticoes,
and the Romans crucify three nude thieves,
on the skull-strewn col beyond the west gate.
Beyond the city, kakhi-colored hills
crowned with settlements march down to Jordan
and the wilderness beyond the river,
where the chain-link barrier winds its way
through Palestinian towns not yet razed,
and Israeli towns not yet stillborn.
Cries of lamentation rise from the vale
where King Hezekiah’s funeral proceeds,
with wailing from professional mourners,
and David dancing in the muddied streets.
Their cries are drowned by the motor-highway
and the disputes of Christian and Muslim
over Sepulchure and Dome of the Rock,
and whether the Jews belong here at all.
The man from Gezerim helps a stranger
that better men left bleeding in the road.
Josephus betrays his post for a job,
Egyptian and Assyrian march through,
laying waste to the country as they go.
Isaiah, stumbling down the broad steps
from a temple more vision than solid mass,
more haze and holiness than hewn limestone,
cries aloud for the comfort of Zion
and the peace – yes, peace – of Jerusalem.
But the fullness of time is not yet appeared:
no peace, no peace, for this city or land,
not yet, Lord, not yet.

3 comments

  1. I really like this. I’m reminded of John M. Ford’s “Winter Solstice, Camelot Station”, which does the polychronous moment for light effect, and also of some of Wilfred Owen’s war poems, which do it for much more serious effect. Do you know the poems that ended up in Britten’s War Requiem?

  2. I really like this. I’m reminded of John M. Ford’s “Winter Solstice, Camelot Station”, which does the polychronous moment for light effect, and also of some of Wilfred Owen’s war poems, which do it for much more serious effect. Do you know the poems that ended up in Britten’s War Requiem?

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