Enjoy this selection from the archives of Ancient Paths literary magazine. This poem was first published in Issue 10 (Spring 2003).
Moses on Sinai and Nebo
by Alan P. Church
VI Exodus 32:7
Striding down Mt. Sinai how could I know
That all your commandments would come to this?
Even as the Israelites gathered ‘round
The golden calf, it was I who broke the law:
It was not in righteous anger that I
Threw down the diptych, made the tables crack,
But I swear (though not by God) my heart tripped:
Unaware, lost in this wilderness of rocks
So that coming upon something soft
My knees mistook the change, feet slid, mind slipped,
I fell headfirst and fast upon the path
So gently, ‘tis strange how violent the change:
The ten broke in half, between six and four,
The Levites laid low three thousand more,
Before I knew how hard the going out had been.
XIV Deuteronomy 34:4
Sitting atop Mt. Nebo I survey the cost
Of paradise gained by paradise lost.
The chosen people gather on the plains below
Ready to cross the Jordan toward Jericho
On dry feet, and with firm hearts that hold
The covenant like a man should hold his wife,
Bearing the fruit of a new life into the promised land.
But in this wilderness I must remain to do the math,
Weighing numbers and the law against my years:
One river and many deaths will soon divide
A lost generation and my hundred and twenty years
From Your twelve tribes times ten commands.
The softness of Sinai now is gone and I await
The hard blasts of trumpets and broken gates,
The Day of Judgment and a more joyful marriage.