And the heart of man is a green leaf: God twists its stem and it withers.
At first the hunger in his belly did not burn,
nor did it lie at the bottom with the heaviness
of stone. It was like iron hammered flat,
like the dull edge of a knife pushed against
a whetstone. Because hunger leaves no one
alone, as he passed a fig tree and found green
leaves but no fruit, he touched three limbs
and the tree withered. This did nothing
to sate his hunger, and like deadwood
catching fire, where there had been no heat
a blaze erupted, ravishing the air, until he
could not remember the taste of honey
and bread, the pungent bite of apple’s skin,
and his scorched tongue hung from his mouth
like a stray dog no one will care for.
Those who followed asked why the fig tree
must suffer, why the flames of punishment
instead of love had fallen like a falcon
from the sky. Silence was the only answer,
and soon they slept by the fire. In his dream
he gathered from the dust stones the size of figs
and ate until he was full. He awoke to the sound
of water moving in a riverbed, the sweet drone
of bees flying among poppies. In the early dark
he went to the river’s edge and drank deeply,
dousing the fire that had burned all night.
He then sent his disciples ahead to a village
where the sick lay on cots, their flesh like dates
laid too long in the sun. As he made his way
to that village, he departed from the road
to find a place that was hidden, and there
he shat out fig-stones, covered them with dirt
and blessings. In that place two trees sprouted
and bore fruit. Of this he told no one.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.