Four nights they walked, and slept by day.
Beneath the Carob branches lay
The daughter fast asleep from hard
And weary nights; and keeping guard
Beside her, lay the prodigal,
His moving lips inaudible,
Still restless and awake, transfixed
On bloody bark and branches twixt
The earth and sky, where traitors used
To hang with common thieves accused
Of Treason toward their sovereign king
And, in the act, of plundering
lips of Níqvah spoke
A wordless speech: “O, Father, cloak
This worse-than-naked son with rags,
And feed me from the garbage bags,
And let me live with slaves, for I
Have treated you with scorn, and my
Contempt was worse than all the blame
That stained this bloody tree with shame,
Which now, with life and leaves arrayed,
Spreads out and covers me with shade.
I do not ask to sit with kings,
But only shade beneath your wings.”
And so the prodigal rehearsed
His speech and waited for the first
Signs of his sister's wakening.
Mid afternoon she stirred. “I'll bring
You water, if you like,” He said.
“I'd like that, Níqvah. All the bread
Is gone, you know.”I know. Let's try
To make it home tonight. The sky
Looks happy to the west. I think
We'll make it. I'll go get your drink.”
When he returned, the packs were rolled
And Hahyaneta said, “I told
Your brother you would come.”What did
He say?” But Hahyaneta hid
Her face as they began to walk,
And didn't answer him. “Some talk
Of pain is good, you know.”I know.
He said he didn't care. ‘Just go
And waste your breath,' he said.” The tears
Rolled down her cheeks. “How many years
Has Mãnon felt that way?” he asked.
“Unless he's keeping something masked,
He never cared.”I'm not surprised.
He never wrote. To be despised
Is sometimes good for us. I don't
Deserve his pity, and I won't
Demand his love. The way I spurned
Our Father, surely has well earned
For me whatever Mãnon feels.
How great his love must be that reels
With hate so long! Perhaps, if he
Believed that I have come to see
How precious is our Father's care
And how unspeakable and rare
His heart, and noble is his mind,
Then, maybe, there would be a kind
Of softening of Mãnon toward
My soul.”I wish for such reward,
My brother, but I fear the wrath
Of Mãnon grows along a path
Far diff'rent from the one you hope.
Oh, that his anger were the scope
And measure of his love for all
That our great Father is. But gall
And bitterness are not born from
The thrall of mercy nor do come
From treasuring the fountain of
Delight we call our Father's love.
There is another stream that feeds
The bitterness of his good deeds.”
Now as the evening came and they
Began to climb the rugged way
That leads up to the great Plateau,
All conversation ceased. Below,
And now behind these two, ten years
Of emptiness burst, to the cheers
Of every waving stalk of grain,
A bubble in the wind, and feign
The beauty it possessed before
It broke. His back now to the shore
Beyond the western rim, the son
Stood trembling on the road – the one
Where he had run the other way,
As though it were just yesterday.
Before him lay what seemed a sea
Of endless gold. What enemy,
He thought, could make a boy believe
That any distant world could weave
A better beauty than this place?
Then suddenly he said, “My face,
My hair! I'm filthy, Hahya. Look
At me!” She smiled at him and took
A long, deep breath, and said, “Let's go.”
The old man's chair rocked to and fro.
His lips moved silently as though
He sang some favorite psalm. The glow
Of golden red and crimson rays
Had set the western fields ablaze,
As if some cosmic cause were found
For merry-making. But no sound
Was heard except the rhythm of
The rocking chair. And then, above
The rail, the old man saw two shapes,
And stopped. He thought, “I know the capes
That Hahyaneta wears.” He took
The rail and stood so he could look.
And then he saw her lift her hand
The way she always did, then stand,
And let the other shape go on.
He knew. For all his soul was drawn,
And there was no resisting this.
He left his cane, and, lest he miss
A step, he jumped them all, and ran,
Forgetting that he was a man
Of dignity, and that his knees
Were bad. He often thought, with ease
Someday I'll run on these, and more,
Is this not what they're ruined for?
He stopped just long enough to see
His eyes and take a breath. Then he
Embraced the boy, and pressed his face
Against the foul and crusty place
He used to kiss the lad goodnight,
And pushed his fingers through the tight
And matted hair; and there with plain
And heaving sobs, released the pain
Built up four thousand nights. And then,
The weeping son said, “Father, can
Perhaps, you make a slave of me,
For I have sinned and cannot be
Your son?” To which the great old man
Replied, “I have a different plan.”
And then, to servants gathered by,
He said, “Bring me the ring, and my
Best robe, and leather shoes. And take
The fire and fatted calf, and make
For us the finest feast that we
Have ever made. For this, you see,
My dead son is alive and sound;
He once was lost, but now is found.”
And so the common labor ceased,
And ev'ry hand prepared the feast.
The colors flew at ev'ry gate!
And they began to celebrate.
As usual, Mãnon was in
The field and working late. He'd been
There since the crack of dawn and worked
All day. “Let duty not be shirked,”
He liked to say, and took some pride
In his long hours, and liked to chide
The servants, that he could out-serve
Them ev'ry day, and out-deserve
Them all. He heard the music from
The house and saw the servants come
Out dancing on the lawn. His first
Response to songs and joy: a burst
Of anger: this is not the way
To serve their Lord! What holiday
Have they declared to frolic like
A carefree child? If I must strike
Them, then I will, to see that they
Learn how to serve and to obey.
“What's all this racket here?” He snapped.
A servant overflowed and clapped,
“He's back! He's back! Níqvah is back!”
He frowned, “And in the prison shack
With other thieves, may I suppose?”
“Oh, no, Sir Mãnon! Master chose
The fattest calf and killed it for
A feast, and said, ‘Bring wine and pour
A goblet for my son, and let
All work be put aside and get
My ring and finest robe with joy,
And put them on my living boy.'”
The older son was stunned and stood
There by the fence he'd made, and would
Not enter. Then his Father saw
Him by the fence, and went to draw
Him in. “Your bother's home. Come see
Him, Manny. He has changed. You'll be
Amazed.”I'll tell you, Father, what
Amazes me: that he can strut
Here like an honored guest although
He took your hard-earned cash to throw
It down the sewers of Noash,
And let you subsidize his brash
And wicked reveling with whores.
And made you weep behind those doors
For ten years while I slaved to make
A profit on this place. So take
Your pick, my Lord, the wicked one
In there, or me, the working son.”
“I'd like to think that all these years
You have enjoyed the place. It sears
The soul, Mãnon, to take your rage
To bed night after night. You wage
A war against your self. Beware
Of other mistresses whose snare
Is just as deadly as the kind
Your brother sought. Oh, be not blind,
My son. All that I have is yours,
And free. For all time it endures.
But if what you desire is pay,
Bequests will never come that way.
Come, join me at the table, son,
The labors of the day are done.”
But Mãnon stood there like a stone,
And sent his Father back alone.
The girl was watching from the door,
And as her Father passed, “Once more,
Perhaps,” he took her hand and said,
“Our little girl can raise the dead.”
She turned and saw the shining face
Of Níqvah laughing in the grace
Of life, then through the evening shade
Beyond the fence that Mãnon made,
face was streaked where sweat
Ran through the pollen dust, and met
His tangled beard. The garments that
He wore for working stank. And at
The middle of his fingers there
Were blisters on both hands. Despair
Seemed written on his frozen face.
“In vain,” he thought, “He said the race
And pace were all in vain. The hours,
The years, the sweat, the plans, my pow'rs –
For naught. Bequests don't come that way.”
Then Hahyaneta kissed the gray
And brownish coating on his cheek,
And said, “Hi, Manny. You look weak.
Can I get you a drink?” He shook
His head, “No thanks.”Mãnon, it took
Your breath away, what Father said.
I think I understand. The dread
You feel right now – that all your sweat
Has been in vain – it's true. And yet
It is a gift to know bequests
Are free, and loaded treasure chests
Of grace, all hidden in the ground,
Are never earned, but only found.
And, dancing doesn't come that way,
And happy parties are not pay.
Day labor is of no avail
The gift of joy is not for sale.
You've labored hard to shun what's bad
And now it's hard to just be glad.
But, Manny, look. Your Father and
The servants, and your brother stand
Inside the door and bid you come.
And listen to the children drum!”
She took his hand: “Come, all is well.”
And thus the fetters broke and fell.
He waked as from a life-long trance,
And said, “May I please have this dance?”
And now, O Christ, with candle three
Let there be light so we can see
The way between two forms of death,
And with that light, O give us breath
To live again, and bring us back
From pleasures in a foreign shack,
Or from the pride of weary arm,
While working on the Father's farm.
From demon sloth and pleasures raw,
Or demon toil and pride of law.
The pathway home from either place
Is opened by the word of grace.
Come, to the light of candle three,
Remember that bequests are free.
The ticket that you have to show
Is this: that you are glad to go.