Here’s where a thing gets turned on its head in the mind
of a man self-named a sinner. He deciphers inscriptions
on gates to the agora: Son of Caesar. Lord. High Priest.
Titles claimed by VIPS of empire: Divinity a thing
to be grasped at. Gloated on. Devotion wrought
by drawn swords, glint of steel helmets, great snorting horses.
The apostle squints at the flattery carved on gates
designed and built by slaves once chained
to masters they served faithfully with engineering skills,
intelligence, loyalty. Qualities they possessed in greater measure
than those who owned them once. Set free, the slaves repay,
freely, the debt of gratitude. In Paul’s mind
the titles belong to a man he’s never sat at table with
yet knows by heart. A victim of empire, arrested,
tortured, executed. Who with his last breath said to a sinner,
Today you will be with me in paradise.
Friends call him king, priest, master. Around the table
they remember him, extol his coming kingdom. It has begun
to turn the whole damned empire upside down.
Wisdom, in the book of Proverbs, stands like any shameless woman
at the entrance to the city, raises her voice in the street:
instructions for the simple, precepts for pilgrims, the hungry
ushered to a table set with meat and wine. In Ephesus
Sophia stands restored between two pillars of the Celsus library,
shoulders wrapped in a stone shawl, stone eyes fixed
on the unstoppable tsunami: tourists and time advancing
and streaming past the library: excavated, reconstructed,
empty of books. A ghost-filled haven. King Croesus
who had gold enough to fund construction of a temple
honoring Artemis. Demetrius the silversmith made money
making shrines for her.
The wise know speech is silver, silence, gold
and those with ears can hear wind blowing in the streets
in Ephesus. Dust fills the air. Cypress trees are shaken
like the pages of a book. On the tree of life
the leaves glow green.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.