The Halfway House, Part VIII        

 
Apparition

I am Saint Moses the Black,

Wicked, a robber, turned back on the track

You lightly follow.

In me evil lived like a king,

My heart his swansdown pillow.

As running slaves, my sins would bring

The loot of summer to the spring,

And leave the weeping to the willow.

As bad as you, if not much worse,

I am your means of speaking.

 

Traveller

My eyes are dazzled.

The sun, encircling darkness,

Shows me my eyes turned on themselves.

You are not here,

But are a fear speaking.

 

Apparition

I am a saint and nothing evil.

My blackness is to save your eyes

The torment of my splendour.

Does not the Devil

When he takes you by surprise

Look from the beauty he has lost?

 

Traveller

Why do you lie in wait,

Skulking among the quartz and crystal shapes

That brighten from the sand?

Why in a strange land,

Among strangers, bait

Your ambush with crossed lights and false escapes?

Why have I not met you before,

At the south gate,

Or by the sea shore?

 

Apparition

You have, but did not stay to question.

Like me, you took the good for fools,

And made your lonely wishes rules,

And out of words built up your bastion.

 

Traveller

Tell me what I have to do.

How can I avoid the cave

Aways in my own heart -

The emptiness that swallows up

Everything renowned and new

Within the common grave

Of living my own art?

I am so long accustomed to

Writing in sand,

Without a hope

That anyone will understand

The loneliness I feel

At being far from God.

I suppose this is the cause?

 

Apparition

Can happiness be found apart

From love?

He makes the laws

By which each one of us is free

To leave Him, and be sad,

If we insist, forever.

 

Traveller

Did you find it hurt

To give up being bad,

No longer to be clever

At your own expense?

 

Apparition

As pleasant as to drink

Water when you are thirsty.

What if the goodness takes away your breath at first

And makes each startled sense

Wince as the pulses race

At not having to be won over by lust

The way you used to think

You always had.

\Mho would go back

To having lost the track

In a land filled with volcanic dust,

To the fixed fear of death

Spreading its grin across your face

As the years ground on

From grief to grief?

 

Traveller

Yes, but you have not said

What it was like being given up for dead

By those you used to know.

How did the other robbers react?

 

Apparition

In different ways

On different days,

And very differently when night

Came down on each tired thief

Alone, with nowhere left to go.

From time to time

I heard from them.

After a while

One became abbot where I lived.

For who, however tightly

The purse-strings of his heart are held,

Has not heard

God calling in the distance

Beyond the cadence of a spoken word?

The worst are not so far from being best,

If only they will listen

To what the Lover of them even,

Poor broken loveless misers, says.

Am I not one among the multi-millions He forgave

Sins which pointed out the nails that fixed for Heaven

His wounded hands, which cure

The sad sick soul of all its own self-seeking ways?

 

Traveller

I ask your

Prayers.

 

Apparition

And I ask you to look

Where you are going.

God means these chances to be taken.

You have not met a gentlemanly spook

Appearing to provide diversion

From the tedium of travel;

Or a pious phantom, who is merely showing

You the breathless sights of an excursion

Within hailing distance of a safe hotel.

This is the desert,

And what you feel,

The fear of falling

Of your own weight of evil

Into the prehistoric house of Hell,

Is not to be explained away by calling

Me pseudo-scientific names

Or by saying that those suddenly opened eyes are wakened

At memory of a frightening father

Or by one of the other

Desolating parlour-games

With which the fancier fool

Muffles alarms still ringing in his soul.

God is serious in what He has me say

And His love for you is real,

As He showed you on the Cross,

So if you die, defiant,

Still having your determined disobedient way,

Then you will feel

That love as justice

Giving you what you have chosen,

Eternity within the frozen

Depths of your deceitful self,

Where the cold burns.

 

Traveller

My heart warns

Me to thank you for your care.

Of your charity

Remember me before

Our Lady of the Desert

That I may not despair.

 

Apparition

I do.

At her desire

God has great mercies waiting to be given you.

But you must pray.

I changed

By God’s grace.

You must do the same.