Mennonite Poetry Home | Robert Martens



old hero

he has been king, it seems, forever.
since his days as a hunted man. since
saul's madness, jonathan's love, since
dawn's wound and the doom of birdsong,
since saul's death. david has been king
forever. he moves slowly now, and the rich
purple of the throne room can't stop
his shivering. he will count his people.
he needs to know.
it was never enough. he saw bathsheba
bathing on a rooftop. he sent her
husband to die on the front lines.
he claimed
her nakedness. when they
made love, the ghosts of his descendants
fled to a blind land, he was
the king will know, he commands,
count my people.
it wasn't enough for sons and daughters.
absalom rebelled against his father. the battle
lost, absalom fled on horseback, and his
hair caught
in the great oak, he
dangled between heaven and earth.
david's most loyal killed him. absalom,
my son. my innocent.
yahweh is angry with the nation
of israel. he touches david's icy
visions. count my people, he says,
and david orders a census. for your
says yahweh, these children
shall die
. he dispatches
his angel of death to stalk the land, and
seventy thousand perish.
but jonathan defied his father saul's
madness. your soul is my soul, he said
to david, take my cloak as your own.
they embrace. they will not
meet again. a lion pads meekly
through the clearing. eve sleeps
naked beneath the oak. jonathan
will die with saul. your
love for me, how have the mighty fallen,
and the weapons of war perished.
david confronts the angel of death. my
, he says, was my crime,
and he rises in anger, but these sheep,
he says, what have they done
to deserve this?
yahweh is
ashamed, calls back his angel.
david returns to the throne. it is
his, the curse of the hero,
he would not surrender it even
for a friend's embrace. courtiers in
purple silk, cold throne, a harp.
i have seen the glory.

© Robert Martens




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