Jesus—Joseph’s son. They would ask—
Where is your home place? Your village? Your town-land?
At the ends of the earth, the far yonder.
And what, they would ask, do you do?
Craftsman-laborer, poet-vagabond, carouser in the courts of God. Island.
Jesus-of-grace, I, too, am island, from an island off an island,
out by the edge of things, on the margins, at the shore,
though who I am I am not yet.
Something about setting out (always setting out),
fear the vision will not be achieved, the poem done, it will fall
short, frustrated. Like you—
troubadour, and driven; an inner urgency impelling, scarce understood.
Out of Old Testament detritus, a lacerating prophet offers
cactus, thistle, an axe to cut the eucalyptus down, fire to burn
root and branch and bole;
crying that wilderness and the demands of desert
must broil away all dross from the soul. Not that voice, Jesus,
but your gentle voice, calling, almost
too softly, whisperful. Again, and then again, I would
wash myself clean, in the name of the worth of all created things
and in your name, Jesus, enfleshed, baptized again
to the reign of God, to peace.
That all that you are might live in me. To step into the river
and become the river. The world stilled when you
stood into the water—only the breath-like wing-beats
of a flock of flamingos over Jordan valley,
the tin-tin distant tinkling of the bells of a herd of goats
stirring under the forenoon heat
and the strong heart of the good creation beating.
You brought with you into the water
the green and the brown and the ochre earth, the dead, the living,
the yet-to-come, and the earth sang out there is
no original sin—we come to original earth in original grace.
There were children sing-songing Torah
in the shade of the olive trees, and we—out by the rhododendron
and in under the fuchsia, between Angelus and lunchtime—we
were sing-songing our Gaelic airs and pronouncing your name
from our small catechisms.
Íosa, a Íosa. Here, on the island, I relish the charism
of purple thistle-tops, the lop-ended
play of rabbits in the shade of ferns,
the scarcely perceptible dribbling of dust
from the abandoned houses. That all that you are,
Jesus-of-grace, might root, and swell, in me.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.