Pompei | A Poem “For” Advent

Pompei | A Poem “For” Advent December 14, 2018

A guest Advent post by David Greer.

They call this a flash-heated death.
The death is instantaneous.
Extremities curl, like so, in cadaveric spasm.
For twenty centuries he has been bound in stone.
Inside the hull, where body had been,
a jar of stone, and inside the jar,
burned and tarred, the book,
cradled, as one would cradle a child.

We have the science these days.
We could peel it open,
and with our devices we could read it,
if we could only get our hands on it.
But in Pompeii and Herculaneum, beneath these mountains,
whole cities are lost, and will never be found.
The man, his book, this bewitching absence,
will remain locked up until the sun goes dark.
No book to be found, no remnant man,
no knowing, no certainty in this old world.

Just as well. Best to let such mischief
stay buried under a mountain of pumice.
Let the Universe sort its own self out,
let it gather and collect,
let it close up shop in time like common matter.
Let the name of God be Random
and Distant, the polar moment
an unfathomable ocean of time.
Let human history be like the scribble of insects,
no eavesdropping on the unendurable,
the inscrutable,
how it comes in folds and fractures,
something like a flaw, a pocket, old bad air
from another time and place, alien and inhuman.
Let that plane remain under infinite seal,
fire and the reptile order of being our only regard.

Such a book would burn itself out.
What foolish God would make it,
or let it be made?
Small blue flames, wind of voices
and dust to carry away to static and silence,
to hollow out the heart of image and word.
Such a book would say too much.
If there was, ever, such a book.

I knew a man who believed he had committed
the unpardonable sin in the backseat of a car
with another man’s wife, the woman pregnant,
no wiggle room there, no redemption:
he was damned and he knew it.
We will tell everything we know,
is the truth. With every word we utter
we both speak, and forget, ourselves.
We live that far apart.
And we prefer it that way.
We like our Jesus as empty cipher
packed with the simple meanness of our souls.
It is emptiness and absence that draws us,
after all, like the odor of blood.
We simply cannot bear not to know.

In this story we glimpse him at odd jobs in Sephoris,
never enough work to get by,
table scraps for his labors,
turning his face away from the master’s
glance so as not to be discovered.
Would we even know him?
Or a few coins in his pocket, cheap worn images
of an emperor – behold the living god! –
traded for a double handful of grain.
Would we know him as a man, standing before us,
sweat and grime, the ammonium odors of animals?
Gentle aspirations of marketplace, pidgin Greek,
something overheard, carelessly uttered,
not from malice, but from love,
to calm a fretting child, perhaps, to bed
hungry again, fearful, innocence forced
by mere proximity to the God’s necessary
self-tempering, forethought of worse to come.
A small comfort, the rubric spoken aloud,
but children have an instinct for the forbidden.
In the evening they might sit on the lee side,
dark, everlasting eyes hooded in the dusk.
He would laugh – I picture him with those deep,
expressive lines at the corners of his eyes –
and call out the stars by name,
or tell what the bush whispered to the prophet.
He would reveal things, what was hidden
or left out, and why, like a ship’s ballast,
there was so much cruel misery in the world.
Or secrets of the red winds,
the brutal groaning of continents,
the terrible, hidden mechanisms of Creation.
Maybe it was just simple loneliness,
an accidental mercy, though enough to make
the very stones cry out with hurt and longing.
Something, a secret –
such a foolish God –
a secret with which only a child could be trusted.

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