The donkey recalls the flight into Egypt
By Claire Hermann
Again, we set out,
a different way,
past the temple and the stone houses,
the girl sitting astride,
the baby fussing in her arms,
sacks smelling of myrrh and frankincense
flung across my withers,
travelling ahead of the soldiers,
dodging from village to village,
hiding in a barn, behind a house,
the parents praying the little one did not cry.
Sometimes the army went before us,
and we heard wailing,
saw mothers cradling white bundles and rocking.
We passed two older children,
blood drying on their clothes,
shaking too hard to stand,
their pupils blown wide and dark, unfocused.
One pressed a kiss to the other’s forehead,
and they both stared past us
to the pastures and the olive groves.
We went on our perfumed way.
The man paused at a pomegranate tree
and plucked one fruit for the girl.
She ate it on the dusty roadside,
the juice running over her hands,
staining them red.
She offered some seeds to me
in an outstretched palm.
We passed a graveyard
with the ground fresh-dug in one long row.
Behind us, the new star kept winking in the sky.
Dust settled on our skin.
Our muscles stiffened with ache.
The man refused to rest
until we crossed
some border I could not see.
Then they unloaded me,
left me in this desert,
so like the hills of my birth.
Here I have passed some thirty years.
I can still smell the fear of flight,
feel her weight on my spine and
the pull of her sweaty grasp on my stiff mane,
hear the soft mutters of the sleeping child.
They longed for safety.
I carried them as far as I could.