Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shammah's Psalm of Lament

He does not choose me.

He comes up the road, up to Bethlehem,
The old man with fire in his breath.
The holy one, they call him, the
One who talks with God, walks with God,
The judge.
He smells of dust and olives.
The elders tremble as he comes, because
They do not know if he comes
In peace or judgment, or both.

I have come, he says, to
Sacrifice to the Lord.

My father and my brothers and I
Stand before him, in awe
Because he asks us to stand,
And he consecrates us to
Join in the sacrifice, to be part.
But where is the bull, the dove,
The lamb?

The old man who smells of olives and dust
Looks at my brother Eliab,
Strong and vital and handsome.
An eternity passes; he’s listening to God.
Then he shakes his head.
Not him, he says, not him.
Then my brother Abinadab;
Not him, he says, not him.

Then Shammah, astonished,
As he looks at me, his eyes
Bore into my soul as
Hope and fear contend in my heart.
The holy one shakes his head;
Not him, he says, not him.
My body is flooded
With the joy of relief,
And a bitterness of regret.

Four more sons, four more brothers,
Four more not hims.
And then the question that cracks
Open the skies:
Are there no others?

My father brings beloved
From the pasture, the youngest,
Our shepherd boy who laughs when we
Tease and bully him but whose
Eyes already have
The pierced look of a warrior,
Perhaps a king.
The old man’s face whitens
Like the dust that clings to his feet.
The Lord speaks,
He is the one I have chosen.

Not chosen, my heart aches for
The bewilderment on beloved’s face
As the old man who smells of olives
Pours oil from his horn and
Anoints my brother’s head,
Consecrates my brother,
Separates my brother and
Names the sacrifice he has come to make
Before the Lord.

The heavens split open,
The power comes.
Now my brother smells of dust and olives.

He does not choose me.


Maureen said...

Extraordinary, Glynn, It's not possible to read this just once.

"He smells of dust and olives." That's an unforgettable line.

Anonymous said...

you give the story life.
i felt the emotions.
i held my breath.

Laura said...

I had to read it over and over again too. As a middle child, oh, don't I know this feeling...looked over, passed over--unchosen.

Thank you, Glynn.

S. Etole said...

when we get what we didn't want ... yet want what we didn't get

Unknown said...

very moving

Monica Sharman said...

"the old man with fire in his breath"
"he smells of dust and olives"

The whole thing, just wonderfully crafted, Glynn.

L.L. Barkat said...

"The old man’s face whitens
Like the dust that clings to his feet."

That slowed me. I love this alternate look at the story. Wonderful.

Glynn said...

Thanks so much for the comments. The "dust and olives" came from what I thought Samuel would likely smell like -- he had come a distance (likely on foot) to reach Jesse -- and he carried his horn of oil, probably olive oil.

I picked Shammah over the other named brothers because his name means "astonished." And Laura, I'm a middle child, too, and know what it is to be neither the oldest nor the youngest. The peacemaker. The one who never got into trouble. Yep, I know.

This is my sixth David poem -- I don't know exactly where I'm headed. Not sure what's next -- but I've been working the Bathsheba story. It's not quite jelled yet. Nathan and Absalom are in my head as well.

Thanks again -- it's a great encouragement to see the comments and the responses.

Anne Lang Bundy said...

Shammah (also called Shimeah) is the only brother besides notorious Eliab to show up again. I'm glad you chose him. He gets a juicy part in my biblical fiction.