Part 4

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Abednego and Meshach winced
With Daniel when the monarch rinsed
His guilty hands with water from
The bowls of Nebo, then put some
On each eyelid to symbolize
His tears, and that the royal eyes
Knew nothing of the brutal end
Of Shadrach, and by this defend
Himself against the spreading word
That Shadrach’s insolence had stirred
His anger to the boiling point,
And after naming him to joint
Preferments with his friends, he had
Him slain. The posing king was clad
In grieving gowns and let his speech—
His eulogy for Shadrach—reach
Its pinnacle of pretense when
He praised his noble faith and then
Proclaimed, “How great the god our friend
And brother served! Would I could blend
My blood with his to render praise
For such omnipotence, and raise
My feeble voice with accolades
For sacred power that pervades
The world of kings and blocks their claims
To rule the earth, and saves from flames,
And elevates to offices
Of state all lords and kings by his
Design. O, let all Babylon
Bewail this loss! And may there dawn
A day when good men are increased
And those who kill them turn to beasts!”

The court’s polite applause was loud
With unbelief, and in the crowd
Three men stood motionless. The king
Could see them from his throne. “Go, bring,
Those men to me,” he whispered to
His royal guard, and pointed through
The crowd to Daniel and his men.

He met them in the chamber when
The ceremony was complete.
“Your attitude was not discrete,”
the king observed. “You did not like
My speech. It seemed that you would strike
Me with your eyes. Why do you find
The praising of your friend unkind,
And look so rudely on your king
Today, as if my worshiping
Your god were something small
Or insignificant?”

“When all
Your pow’rs are spent, your majesty,
On sham, there’s little left to be
Successful as a judge. It is
Not small to worship God. And his
Omnipotence is worthy of
Your deepest truth and highest love.
But your duplicity is plain
To every eye. You feel no pain
For Shadrach’s death, and feel no love
Toward Shadrach’s God. The moon above
Is what you fear. You are the slave
Of Rak, the god of night, and gave
That name to him, Shadrach, in hopes
The moon would bind our friend with ropes
Of fear the way your soul is bound.
And failing that, you soaked the ground
Last night with Shadrach’s blood. And now
You think we should applaud and bow
Before your two-faced parody
Of grief. May God grant you to see
That moonlight flatters infamy
As fair, and blesses blasphemy.
And speeches that you learn at night
Do not play well in broad daylight.
Tonight, O king, tonight! A dream!
One final dream. And God supreme
Will make it known. I know that when
I’m gone, you will not want again
To see my face. But when your great
Enchanters fail, your dream and fate
Will torment you down to the bone
Until I come and make it known.”

And so that night the king lay on
His bed and pondered Babylon,
The great and mighty empire he
Had built. And then, behold, a tree
Appeared. Was he asleep? Awake?
He didn’t know—or care. At stake
Was everything: his sanity,
His royal crown, his life. The tree
Reached to the clouds. It could be seen
From anywhere. Its leaves were green
And beautiful. Its fruit was sweet
And so profuse that all could eat
Their fill and leave abundance for
Another day. The birds that soar
By day, found nesting here by night,
And every beast escaped the bright
And burning sun by resting there
Beneath its shady branches where
The grass was soft and cool. The king
Felt pleased . . . until a voice cried, “Bring
This tree down! Cut its limbs away,
Strip off its leaves and fruit, and say
To all the birds and beasts, ‘Go find
Another home.’ Now seize and bind
This stump with bronze and iron bands.”
And then the voice gave its commands
Mysteriously about a man,
As if the banded stump began
To live. “Now may his portion be
With beasts, and may this former tree
Eat like an animal and day
By day be soaked with dew the way
A naked stump is soaked, and may
His mind be like a beast, and stay
In bondage until seven times
Pass over him for countless crimes
That he has done. This is decreed
By holy ones. It is agreed:
It shall be done. And all who live
On earth shall know that they must give
To God the right and pow’r to rule
The world and put, on any stool
He please, his royal feet, and bring
The lowest man to be a king.”

That was his dream. Not much remained
For sorcerers, when he retained
Them and demanded that they tell
Him what it means. But silence fell
Across the vain enchanters, till
He saw that they could not fulfill
What he required. Then ev’ry bone
Inside the king felt like a stone,
And he could scarcely make his mind
Consider that he now must find
The meaning of his dream inside
A hated Jewish mind. His pride
Almost prevented it. But where
His pride rose up, fear countered there,
And seized the royal will and gave
The king the anxious strength to brave
The shame of asking Daniel to
Interpret one more dream.

“So you
Have summoned me, your majesty
Again? You like the company
Of Jewish refugees, it seems.
Or do you only fear your dreams
So much that you would even eat
With dogs if they could but repeat
What you see in your sleep? Your fear,
I think, is warranted. The smear
Of Shadrach’s gracious blood does not
Rinse off so easily. The blot
Is deeper than your hands, and streams
Up from your guilty soul in dreams
And rises with a crimson flow
To quench with life the fading glow
Of Raku’s reign. What will that mean
For you, my liege? What have you seen?
I wait to hear your dream.”

And so,
In hopes that Daniel could foreknow
What this portends, he told him all
His dream: the tree, the height, the fall,
The stump that seemed to live, at least
To breathe, but scavenged like a beast.
“What do you think?” the king inquired.
“I think that all Shadrach desired
Will come to pass within two years.”
“I do not know what spikes or spears
Your friend desired for me, but can
You say if in this dream a plan
Unfolds for me, and if so what
It is?” So Daniel gave the plot
And summed up God’s decree with this:
“The tree is you, O king. Dismiss
Forever any thought that you
Can run or hide from God’s design,
Or, if you could, that you would dine
More hopefully than in the fields
Of Babylon with beasts. God wields
The weapon of insanity
To decimate the enemy
Called arrogance and bring to naught
The haughty mind and lofty thought
Of emperors, and make the blood
Of Shadrach blossom with a bud
Of life, sprung from the stump of your
Delirium. The word is sure:
Twelve months of crimson moon, and then
The mighty tree will fall. And when
It does, there will come forth a shoot,
The sacrifice will have its fruit.”

And when the circle of a year
Was made complete, the court could hear
From on the palace roof one brief
And final boast: “I am the chief
Of all the rulers of the earth,
And I own all this royal worth,
And by my power I have made
All this, and leaned on no one’s aid.”
And while the words were still between
His teeth, the king collapsed. The scene
Was unforgettable. His eyes
Sank hollow in his head. The cries
Of wife and children made him rage,
And like a savage beast, the cage
Unlocked, he bounded to the field.
And seven months of moons revealed
The bestial outcome of his boast.
He ate grass like an ox. And most
Of ev’ry night he prowled beneath
The moon, and like the dripping heath,
Was soaked with dew—as if the sky
Itself would make him clean. And by
The end of seven months his hair
Grew long and tangled without care,
And on his bleeding hands and feet
The nails were curled for catching meat,
Like eagles’ claws, but without flight,
Or any thought . . . until one night
The moon, as white as new-blown snow,
Sent down its beam of borrowed glow
A message from the sun,

“The reign
Of Raku is no more. The stain
Of stolen light is washed away
With crimson streams. And now the day
And night will be as one, and what
You worship in the light, will not
You worship in the night? Not Bel
Or Nebo any more. Farewell,
False gods. The light has come. O beast
And royalty, awake!” Released,
Nebuchadnezzar lifted up
His eyes to heaven and the cup
Of reason was restored—and more.
His mind was bright with truth. The door
Of heaven opened to his gaze,
And from his lips came humble praise:
“O God Most High, yours is the pow’r.
Yours is dominion every hour
Until there is no time, and then
Forevermore. Yours are the men
Who think they are their own. And yours
The empires of the world, and doors
That men think they can shut against
Your plan. You are a God unfenced
By any bound’ries on the earth
Or in the skies above. To birth
And death you bring the smallest bird
And greatest king. One simple word
From you: It comes to pass, and none
Dare think or say, ‘What have you done?’

To you, O God of grace, I bow,
And by your mercy I do vow,
O God, from this day forth to give
You thanks, and by the way I live,
To say with all my heart I love
You, and I stand amazed that though
I tried to burn your saints, I owe
Them now my soul. And shall I boast
In anything but grace? Foremost
Of all my boasts and thanks is not
That I was king or pow’r my lot,
Or led the nations with a hook,
Or plundered Israel, or took
Your people in captivity,
But that by this you captured me.
This day I choose another fame:
May Hananiah be my name.”

The flame is sent from candle four
To burn the moons that we adore,
Lest we become, by baying for
The moon, a beast. But even more:
The light of candle four is sent
To show us that the Lord’s intent
Is this: that if he must, God makes
A man a beast and kindly takes
His mind, that in due time the beast
Will lift his gaze to heav’n and feast
His eyes on God. And should you say,
“Is there a sacrifice today
Required?” The Lord himself will give
Reply: “There is. But as I live,
And love to save, that deed is done!
This time I gave my only Son."