The Exodus to the Ark
A sightless fair-ground barker, so tall He’s surely stilted, beckons to the crowd;
Roll up! Roll up! He seems to call, for God’s Waterborne Salvation Show,
and points them towards the big brown tent whose ship-shaped form,
short wooden planks pointed like the brickwork of Albi cathedral,
juts out from the hill-top to their right – a creaky deus ex machina
creaking and moaning in the wind.
This is the primal dark and windy night, the start of every spooky tale;
grim swollen clouds scuttle overhead closing down the sky –
even the ground is grey and agitated beneath their feet. Turbulence
swirls about them, the rush of the wind the groan of the rising waters.
But they and the animals are unnervingly still in the eye of this storm;
only Noah, one arm about his wife’s shoulders,
seems to know what will happen. We must go up, he whispers.
Naamah his wife stares at the ground, God too majestic to contemplate;
she hasn’t understood her man for some time now – his relentless
compulsion to build this boat, his obdurate insistence
that their sons drop everything else and help him –
but has played the bridge between father and progeny, as she does still,
one caring arm on Noah’s waist, the other enfolding Japheth.
All her men have blood-red cloaks over ancestral camouflage kit; her
olive-green robe alone speaks of fecundity, past and perhaps still to come.
Does her back, her downcast look, reflect Eve leaving Eden?
Shem, Ham and Japheth, homunculi manikin versions of their father
disturbing tiny adults, half their parents’ height, as if they’ve been prised
from a Diane Arbus exhibition or played supporting roles in Tod Browning’s Freaks;
Ham glances sideways, seeking his father’s approval, it seems,
the other two gaze up at God – but where are their wives?
A lion and a lioness two leopards and two sheep wait patiently in line
for the ramp to be dropped, that they might go aboard;
we must imagine an almost endless line of pairèd creatures waiting to enter
the picture from the left – perhaps the wives are chivvying them along,
unseen but indispensible.
The water has some way to rise before the Ark will float
but God the ring-master will ensure that it does. His plan
has been carefully thought out, and Noah’s work will pay off.
Alastair Llewellyn-Smith has published poems in Acumen and The London Magazine, and reviews in PN Review. This one is from a sequence called Eighteen Benedictions.
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