The Swineherd Begins to Recognize the Demon
Squealing louder than a legion at battle, pigs spearhead
the descent. They sprint down fat, knuckling rifts;
splash against windspun sea. I am also running,
but not toward the drowning. Treading dead
grasses, rehearsing excuses. Dry tinder.
Before villagers sow autumn barley, they burn
this field, banish women and swine.
Mouthfuls of garlic and rituals of menstruation
keep the men away. They soon forget and turn
to work the earth. What is my worth
compared to their herd? Flesh feeds centurion
guts and pockets. If I boil pungent cloves in my tea,
if I bleed, will they fear me enough to leave?
But now the crowd has shouted that boat back to Galilee.
The graveyard is empty. I lost my master’s property;
the only place left is tombstones or caves, where they shackle
the wrists of failures, lepers, threats
to wobble their legion built on cliffs of our need.
Psalm of Lament
This morning I wanted to watch
for light to crest
the ridge, creating
Rusted pickups chaff
the silence. Cantankerous
drivers flick hot
cool roadside clay.
It’s so bent
and unraveling –
the stillness, the cracking
cab of the truck, the man
flipping off the stop
the time on the dash.
If only, if only,
I could lift his eyes
to see the sun
glint above the hill’s pines
like a tree-topping star.
Could you come down here?
Lace up your black boots.
Stamp them into
the muddy path. Hike between
the river birch and
sycamore. Find the place
where water cascades
over smooth rocks and
rinses the creek in its foam,
where the cardinal
no longer pecks the glass
but sings from the fir
branch, where everything
seems at home.
the stream swirls again
Dip your hands in.
But We are Not Rudderless
Four freshly washed pilgrims,
criss cross applesauce, offering their scent
of baby shampoo like frankincense.
I wipe water drops from the crest of their feet
and dip my chin onto folded hands. My kids are not still,
rocking sideways like canoes sprawled laissez faire
around the room, pajamaed in their underwear.
We open our Bible, its spine tearing like the rags of the prodigal.
Mimicking Rembrandt, we splay hands
on its ripped back, where it has been stripped
of its last revelation – Come, Lord Jesus.
My sons reflect upside down in the glossy page.
Most young men wander broad mountains and waves,
but pass by the vast compass of themselves without wonder.*
Distraction, simply picking a scab on the knee.
We thumb and flip and slam and kick
through the storybook. It whispers the name of the water,
the word eroding our narrow canyons,
current carrying us inward,
even as we rend the boat to pieces.
Matthew Miller teaches social studies, swings tennis rackets, and writes poetry – all hoping to create a home. He pretends his classroom is a comfy living room, filling it with garage-sale chairs. He lives beside a dilapidating orchard, attempting to shape the dead trees into playhouses for his four boys. You can see his poetry at https://mattleemiller.wixsite.com/poetry.
Artwork: “The whole herd of Swine ran violently down a steep place,” Public Domain.