“Tunc Jesus ductus est in desertum a Spiritu, ut
tentaretur a Diabolo.”  Matthew, 4:1

Most of the great painters never saw Palestine,
Nor any desert, and even Sicily in July
Was full of life; but the voice of a desert bird
Was a cry in the wilderness, to the wilderness,
Striking the rocks and cliffs,
Which, hearing nothing, send it back to the sky.
And every stranger is a surprise in the desert,
For the red monuments of Utah,
And the black caves of Syria,
And the peaks of Atlas that once supported the world,
Are less astonishing than a single person,
Just one man, appearing
Out of nowhere, the sight of him.

At first his body is wavering like a flame
In the heat, long before
His face can be seen. Suddenly
It’s not a desert anymore, no longer a solitude
Left behind by the weather, unmapped, empty,
Left deserted by a vanished, unknown people;
But the face of the earth that a man walks over,
Making tracks in the dust, filling the emptiness
With every step he takes.
Except that the walker has no shadow.
He says that all the kingdoms of the earth are his,
But who believes a man who doesn’t have a shadow?
And in what a desert must such a spirit dwell.

Published in the July/August 2023 issue: View Contents

Lawrence Dugan’s book The Sea Again: Poems is published by Finishing Line Press.

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