The Prodigal's Sister, Part 2
The old man leaned against the beam
Beside his ramp, and watched a dream
Unfold before his weakened eyes,
And prayed that Hahyaneta's prize
Would be her brother's life. He raised
His empty arm and smiled, amazed
That ten years had not broken the
Resolve and hope in her that she
Would be the way her brother would
Come home. He waved once more, and stood
There on the porch, and watched her take
The final turn from sight, and make
Her lonely way toward Noash on
The coast. He thought, “Your mother's brawn
And beauty mingle well in you,
My child. I know what she would do,
If she were here. She'd look at me
And say, ‘It's time to eat.' Then she
Would go inside to spread the meal
And wait for news that Hahya's heel
Had crushed the serpent's head of lies
And freed her son to be the prize
Of Hahyaneta's quest.”
Man lingered. Better than he told,
Or wished to tell, he knew the way
To Noash, and the town. The day
Would not go down until some knave
Would hurl a slur against his brave
And tender girl. The road that leads
To Noash is a trap, but breeds,
Against its gluttony and lure,
A grief and anguish in the pure.
Five days she walked, and slept at night
In synagogues, or in the sight
Of one, if rabbis were unsure
That she was scrupulous. The poor
Would take her in and make a place;
And she would say at dawn: “May grace
Abound to you, and would you pray
That very soon my brother may
Receive me in the way you did.”
And then she ventured on and bid
Them all farewell, until she came
To Noash by the sea.
Above the curving rim of blue
And rolling waves fell blazing through
The evening haze, and boiled with blood-
Red spray, it seemed, and sent a flood
Of molten crimson flowing forth
On the horizon to the north
And south. She climbed a hill outside
The town so she could watch, and tried
To put herself in Níqvah's place,
And thought: “I wonder if his face
Is ever set to climb this hill,
And watch the west, and feel the thrill
Of what I see: An image of
The heritage our father's love
Bequeaths to us in endless seas
Of golden grain that roll like these
Great waves, and blaze with fire like them
In beauty, but do not condemn
The seamen who embark and fail
But only those who will not sail.”
She wondered, as the sun went down,
Where she should stay the night: in town,
Or on a nearby farm? And as
She prayed, she thought, “My father has
A lot rooms and loves to share.
Perhaps there is a farm somewhere
Nearby with rooms and with a heart
Like his.” She raised her head, and part
Way up the hill along the road
An old man with a crooked goad
And scrawny goat walked slowly from
The field, and as he sang a psalm,
Made his way home. His face was thin
And on his neck there was more skin
Than there was meat to fill. She knew
The song. It made her tremble through
The twilight – and rejoice. The man
Must be some distant kin and clan
To know this song. And yet it did
Not bode well for her brother's bid
To live, if wealth had taken wing.
Just barely could she hear him sing:
“When the staff is broken,*
And in judgment spoken
Righteousness is heard,
Think not God is silent,
Though the famine violent,
This is but His word.
He stands not to give account.
It is we who must before Him.
Come, let us adore Him!”
“Excuse me sir, I'm looking for
A place to stay, a simple floor,
Or porch. I have a blanket of
My own. Perhaps a roof above
My head, that's all.” The old man gazed
A long time. Then he said, “Amazed;
I am amazed. He said I'd see
And be amazed.”Who said you'd be
Amazed? At what?”Your father said
I'd be amazed. Well, shake my head!
I truly am amazed! You look
Just like them.”Like who?” Her voice shook.
“Your father and your brother. There,
The chin, the cheek, the nose, the hair.
Amazing.”Sir, which brother do
You mean?”I mean the one that you
Have come to find, Níqvah.”You know
My brother's name?”And yours, although
You don't know me. Your given name
Is Hahyaneta. And your fame
Has come before you. He told me
For years that one day I would see
You on the road to Noash. In
Your blood, he said. It's more than skin
That knits you to your mother and,
I add, your father.”Sir, I stand
Before a man I do not know,
And yet who knows me well. Please show
Me who you are, and take me to
“Come, let's walk. I knew
Your father years ago when he
First came to seek his son and see
If he could take him home. The lad
Refused, and so your Father bade
Me keep and eye on him, and gave
Me money. ‘Keep him from the grave,'
He said. And so for ten years I
Have seen your father come and try,
Time after time, to show the boy
That there is hope and far more joy
At home than in this place. I know
Your father very well.”I owe
You much, kind sir. Tell me, how long
Has famine reigned? I heard the song.
Does Níqvah have enough to pay?”
“The boy eats carob pods to stay
Alive. He steals them from the pigs,
And sometimes gathers flint and twigs
For pennies and a place to stay.”
“Do you know where he is today?”
The old man pointed to a shed
With three sides. “There, he makes his bed,
With bats, and sleeps on gathered leaves.
His daily rent: to keep the thieves
Away and feed the swine. I'll wait
Here if you like.”You've been a great
Help, sir, but you don't need to stay.
I'll be all right. Thank you, and may
My father trouble you no more.
Come visit us. My father's door
Is always open.”Fare thee well,
Young lass. It was no trouble. Tell
Your father I will come some day.”
She walked down toward the shed. He lay
There on the leaves as still as death.
She wondered, as she watched, if breath
Still came. His eyes were closed. His cheek
Was dark and hollow, and the reek
Was foul. His fingernails were caked
With dirt, and streaks of black soil snaked
Across his rutted brow. His hair
Had not been washed for months. And there
Were no shoes anywhere. His feet
Were bare, his ragged cloak replete
With eaten holes. And in his sleep
He gripped a pouch he used to keep
The parchments that his father sent.
She kneeled beside his head and bent
Down over him and kissed his cheek.
Incredibly there was no shriek
Or sudden jerk. He stared into
The face of Hahyaneta. “Who
Are you?” he said, and sat up in
His leaves. “Hi, Níq. You've gotten thin.”
No one had called him Níq for years,
Except his dad. He saw the tears
Pool in her eyes. And then she said,
“Your little girl can raise the dead.”
His mouth fell open, “Hahya?”Yes,
I said I'd come, no more no less,
And bring you home, alive.”The last
Time I saw you, you hadn't passed
Four feet. You must be eighteen now.”
He pushed the hair back from her brow.
“It's really you. Did you come by
Yourself?”Yes.”Why? You want to die?
This city is a pit. It blinds
The young with dazzling names, then binds
And swallows them alive.”I'm here,
To bring you home,” she said, “it's clear
You don't belong.”As clear as mud.
Look, Hahya, you don't know the crud
Inside. You don't know who I am.”
“Hear this, my brother, I do damn
Those words and call them lies. It's you
Who don't know who you are. It's true
There is a mystery. What makes
You think the dazzled dupes and fakes
Of Noash can declare the true
And wonderful design of who
You are? One knows, and only one,
Who Níqvah is. And when you're done
With dabbling in the darkness here –
All dazzling as it is – the clear,
Bright air of eastern skies will bring
You home to him. And I will sing.
Awake, O sleeper, from the grave,
You are a son and not a slave.”
They sat in silence for a long
Long time. He was amazed how strong
This little girl of eight had grown.
And then she changed her look and tone:
“He built a porch just after you
Had left. It faces west. We knew
What it was for. He'll be there, Níq.
And will not quench a smoldering wick.
Come home with me. Even tonight.
I have some bread, the moon is bright.
It's cooler in the dark, and we
Can sleep by day. Please, come with me.”
And quietly the fetters and
The folly fell. She took his hand,
And where he had before said No
A hundred times, he said, “Let's go.”
Come, children, carry fire, and make
This candle blaze. And may Christ take
This second flame and with it burn
Up ev'ry hopeless word, and turn
The fatal dream of false despair
Into the bright and living air
That blows down from the Father's farm;
And may you feel the mighty arm
Of God lift you into the light
Of Truth, and put an end to night.
We do not know ourselves aright
Until we have the Father's light.
We think we know ourselves and groan,
Until we know as we are known.
* The song is to the tune of “Jesus Priceless Treasure.”