God of the Desert

one person helping another climb a mountain

We walked in the shadow time,
in the sun's reflected light.
The sun is like God in the desert,
We cannot look upon its face and live,
not while we walk,
not while we flee
not while we search for home.

We are the shadow people.

Mama carries my brother on her back,
I carry water. We both carry life.
Water is like God in the desert,
Hidden and precious
and a trickster illusionist,
a mirage that shimmers.
Still, it makes the desert bloom

I am thirsty, but I do not drink.

My stomach is tight, unfilled,
but I am used to this gnawing hunger.
Food is like God in the desert,
A gift to be gathered,
just enough and no more.
Too much will spoil.
Too much might kill you.

We have learned to live with hunger.

We reached the gates
in the almost light of dawn
Mama lifts my brother down,
and I see her shadowed face –
careworn lines,
bruise-smudged.
She is like God in the desert,
Abandoned. Exiled.

Forgiveness is a balm in the wilderness.

The gates spark in the rising sun.
Hard iron delicately filigreed.
I imagine our footsteps are
a trail of sand and tears,

leading us home.
Gates are like God in the desert,
welcoming strangers.
Opening. Closing.
Offering redemption to all who seek it.

I am a stranger everywhere we go.

We walk on cracked earth
forward on swollen feet,
to the gate of heaven.
I ask mama to read
the strange words,
etched above the gates,
marking the entrance
to a strange new land:
"Arbeit macht frei,"
she tells me
as the guards pull me away,
to a different line,
a separate place,
telling me a cooling shower awaits,
while my mother cries out,
her arms empty, bare,
but the God of the desert
has already forgotten.

Poem

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