The Elder of the Desert
An airy bone-beach engulfs the horizon
Fears of destruction drift like the dust
Bare backs burn under a noon-day torch
Wary, weak, and withered.
An elder treads the gritty expanses
Rocks trip while sand whirls
A mile away a proud boy stands deserted
Noble-figured, but frail
His body contorts, limbs pull together
In a sand-bowl—no wallet, no home.
The elder egresses his tedious track
From town to town his life’s mission
Turning toward the dandy’s direction
Sensing his present peril.
The sky-torch lowers its red-hot anger
Creating fearful feigns of careless cacti
The seasoned wisdom-giver found the boy
Solid and stiff, mind-locked on despair
He mourns his newfound loss:
“What’s worth living if life isn’t easy?
Why must half-hearts of people desert me?”
The misshapen old man bent down:
“Through adversity mercy is learned,
Walk the narrow road, foot-trodden by few
Find the Peace-giver and follow His lead”
Heaven’s fireflies beamed in mysterious patterns
A howl from the wolf on the rock
The elder arose and the boy followed close
Both wakefully walking, quietly strode
Along a narrow road to peace.
I stumbled across this poem of mine last night while packing up my room. I was 13 and it was a writing assignment for my Medieval Lit. class. We had just finished reading the epic poem Beowulf and were studying the effects of kenning, simile/metaphor, intentional double-meanings, the technique of variation, parataxis, and alliterative verse in Nordic, Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon poetry. We were told to try our hand at this Old English-style form of poetry and the above was my feeble attempt at it. Years later, after becoming an Orthodox Christian, I look back on this poem and see my youthful longing for a “wisdom-giver,” like the elder described—a longing which would later be contented by the great monastic pillars of faith, the Desert Fathers, who were echoing in my heart long before I even knew who they were or why I needed them.