Poem: Stone Heart/Let Go Exodus Poems 10

I’ve been working on a series of poems drawing on the first part of Exodus as we have made our way through this strange, upended year. I had a sense that these stories had something to say to us, speaking into our year of pandemic and political upheaval. I feel I may be nearly at the end of the sequence – maybe one more, but we’ll see.

I’ve been mulling this one over for a couple of weeks, and felt at the end of last week, I’d soon release it into the world and see how it got along. Reading it again today, in the light of the Presidential election, I’ve hesitated. As I was writing, I was thinking how important it was for us to be able to see something of ourselves, from time to time, in those characters who are not the heroes of the story. So often we assume we are Moses, or Miriam, and very rarely wonder if there are aspects of our lives where we might be Pharaoh.

And so I was thinking about the ways in which we may – knowingly or not – participate in systems, and make choices, that are in the spirit of Pharaoh. I was seeking to make a gentle equiry of myself – are there ways in which I might be hard-hearted, grasping, not recognising the consequences of my actions for others? I was speaking to myself, and to our consumerist societies, in addressing Pharaoh in this poem. Of course, we have Pharaohs in our age too, be they elected or other sorts of political leaders, or people of immense weath, and power over our lives, and the state of their hearts matters very much indeed. Maybe one reason they matter so much is that they do seem to embody the values we come to live by. If you want to mull over the role of leaders, be they kings, emperors, or their elected equivalents in power, you might turn to this passage from the Hebrew Scriptures, 1 Samuel 8 – quite a picture of a hard and grasping heart. As ever, there is much wisdom to be found here.

My poem is what it is, and I will trust it, and release it into the world as intended. Its narrative frame is the series of plagues that struck Egypt, recorded in Exodus 7-12. Each time, Moses warned that there would be consequences for not letting the slaves go, and each time, Pharaoh refused. I’ll post my retelling of the story, and some more thoughts about the plagues, soon. It’s a difficult, heartbreaking part of the story of the Hebrew people’s road to freedom, and so important. But in the meantime, here is my meditation, here is what came to me, as the story filled my mind.

Stone Heart/Let Go  Exodus poems 10

You will not let them go,
you will not unclasp your hand,
your heart hardens even as
the people suffer, and so
troubles run together,
clattering across
the exhausted land,
the exhausted people –
Nile turned to blood, undrinkable,
frogs and gnats, sickness and storms,
locusts and darkness,

Each thing connected,
all interdependent.
The river dies, and its
death ripples outward,
and still your heart is hard,
and still you will not let go
as the frogs hop
from poisoned mud,
and gnats rise in swarms,
and all brings death and disease,

You are asked, again, and again,
to let them go,
unclasp that grasping hand,
release the slaves who work
this land, as the land itself
cries out,
exhausted
from the taking, and taking,
and not letting go

barren under a hard human heart,
groaning under the bent human backs,
as you take life and strength
from mud and field and hand.

Step aside, Pharaoh,
from your endless taking.
Instead, let go,
release, free, unbind
all this wealth
that seems so necessary
to you now.

Open your hands,
do not trust in your grasping,
as Moses stands again,
and stretches out his hand again
over the weary land.
Soften your heart. Let them go.
They were never yours to hold.

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