Eliab’s complaint

1 Samuel 16

I had all the qualifications:
the prerogatives of the firstborn,
the stature of a man of authority, a Goliath,
an aquiline nose, an Octavian head,
a heart flaming with anger, Saul’s
good looks and regal gait. I had splendor
and grace. I prayed loudly, devoutly.
I came from good roots
and was born in the right place.
Who could be holier from Bethlehem?

How could my kid brother be anointed,
the one with rosacea, looks like carpenter’s
shavings, the smell of sheep dung on his hands,
who roamed the fields looking for a lost lamb.
He wasn’t even invited to the sacrificial banquet.

That old stickler Samuel knew I should be king.
I coveted the horn that was strapped
over his shoulders leaning toward me.
Why wasn’t that good enough for God?
My name alone should have given me
the edge in the kingdom.

Any fool could see that.


So tonight we carol again squinting
at words by candlelight: betwixt
an ox and a silly poor ass,
and (louder) mortal flesh keep silence.

Animal warmth in this darkness rises
among us with each singer’s breath, as shadows
suggest great slumbering beasts
whose fur brushes us with peace and eases

our way to believe Incarnatus est.
Bodies and beast-shadows sway and grow still.
No one startles as candle
flames tongue air that now seems alive. Breathing. Blessed.


You can snarl and rage and roar and snipe at thugs and liars,
Sure you can, and right you are for doing so, and you maybe
Actually enjoy letting the lava soar out all righteously, right?
But even so, there are lies inside you like viruses. You know
What I am talking about; we don’t need to go into any detail.
And we have been too familiar with a little thuggery, haven’t
We? Not battery: You’ll say, rightfully, that you are innocent.
No: I mean the times you knew about assault and battery, and
Did zero. We just stood there. We pretend to be fascinated
By something else that just happened to be happily elsewhere.
We turned our heads, so it looked like we just hadn’t noticed;
We can surely be excused if we didn’t see it, right? Right?

On the evening of that same day

Before the dust had settled from the tramping boots, he’d appeared.
Eyes beheld him to their confusion but when he breathed upon them
they remembered the spring green hills of Galilee, the cool evening air
scented of olive, laurel, clematis, myrtle. A peace they could not reckon.
A dove called.
                          Left to the silence, they could hardly recognize themselves.
How strangely their voices sounded and what unlikely things they must have

In the receiving line after worship

In the receiving line after worship an elderly man
wants to tell me about his hydrangeas. They were
gorgeous last summer, he says, but not as splendid

as in 1972 when the blue ribbon at the state fair
went to his wife who, he reminds me, was Miss Butts
County back in the 1950s and whom he still misses

every day, especially when he eats peach jam on his toast
which is almost every morning except Tuesdays
when the VFW guys get together down at the café.

The people behind him in line shift on their feet
and glance at their watches while he, oblivious
to their impatience, goes on to describe for me (in detail)

the attributes of her winning Lemon Zest Mophead,
which he swears was the size of a dinner plate, or maybe
a large salad plate. The hydrangea story is taking forever

and I feel my own agitation rising, until the moment
I take his hand in mine (a gesture of care but also,
I regret now to say, meant to hurry him along) and I feel

his papery fingers which are not at all like a hydrangea
but rather like a maple leaf in November,
all that lush, green vigor stored deep within itself

just before it releases the limb and is airborne at last,
carried on a breath, caught up in the glory of all created
things, its final fluttering an ovation of praise.