Crossing to Jericho

By: Berit Goetz 

So Joshua led us out into the stream.
The mighty wash of Jordan’s great expanse
Came lapping at our sword-tips. We were men
Who walked as in a dream, knee-deep now, trembling
With dread of the familiar circumstance.
And did we hear Old Egypt’s chariot wheels
Come rumbling up from half-drowned memory?
And did the stink of quail and manna-meals
Rise in our mouths, unbidden, like a corpse?
But still we followed. I saw the priest’s son
White-faced and knuckled, clutching at the ark,
Steadfastly shouldering beneath wet robes.
The weight, the weight of all his priestly garb:
I knew it dragged at him unbearably.
The fabric billowed madly in the tow,
Dragged by deep waters running down from Adam,
The town upstream. But such amazing things
Were promised us that day! So we obeyed
When Joshua said, “Come consecrate yourselves.
Tomorrow your Lord does great things among you.”
I followed for the sake of those last words—
“among you.” Was such witness possible?
I wondered to the last, as I advanced
Upon the roaring stream.

Sudden—a touch
Like thunder thrilling in a silent sky:
I watched in terror as a mighty shape
Began to mount the distant, dim horizon.
Immense and dark and frothing like a beast
New-caged and wrathful in its impotence,
It was the Jordan piling in a heap,
Heavy and trembling, held by some strange hand
At bay, and raging in captivity.
Dumbstruck, I watched the waters buck and rear,
As round our legs the eddy drained away;
And looking to the Sea of Arabah
We saw the flood was cut off utterly.
The river—oh, I saw the river run
To nothing. In its place, a desert road,
Hard-packed and dry, unraveled at our feet.

What could we do but follow? There we crossed,
Shame-faced and fearful, shadowing the ark.
The day passed swift as swiftly we traversed
A bone-dry bed where river ran before.
What stumbling steps I took! unused to paths
Made easy by my adamantine God.

Night fell. We found our feet on Canaan-shore.
With weary steps like ours, the gathering dark
Alighted on our camp; but we stood still
And gazed out at the plains of Jericho
In silence. In that thin and lonely dusk
The bravest of us would have blushed to speak.
Then Joshua’s voice rang out upon the air:
“O men of Israel, take up your stones!
For we have come through fire, and cloud, and flood.
I will not suffer Israel to forget
That she has witnessed God-with-us today.”
Stones—bones of earth, all covered by the flood
Now halted at Adam: the memory
Of dry paths made, and lost, and made again.
Some small thing stirred within me. So I rose
And did as bright-faced, clarion Joshua
Commanded, choosing for my tribe a rock
From river-bed, foundation for this truth:
God was among us at this crossing-point,
Red Sea and Jordan river both alike.
Our God has made the crossing. It is finished.

Of rocks, we built a great memorial there.
Behind us, the ark-bearers staggered up
From their long vigil as the media
Between us and the promised land of old.
We hardly heard the floodwaters resume.
This is the way that you, my God, appear:
A living breath on Israel’s dry bones.
In us, as at the crossing-point, you choose
To make your glory in a ruin of stones.

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