Tuesday, April 15, 2014

National Poetry Month—Blood Moon/Egyptian Passover

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning a lunar eclipse visible over most of North America went full.  Because of atmospheric condition too complicated for me to explain even if I understood them, it was predicted to be a Blood Moon—the disk of the full moon turned red in the umbra of Earth.  Depending on the exact conditions this morning, it could have appeared anywhere from a bright red, to the darker colors of old blood or pennies, or even almost black.
Traditionally, lunar eclipses were viewed as omens and portends by ancient cultures.  Blood Moons were, as the name implies, considered harbingers of catastrophe and death.
This eclipse is also unusual in that it is the first of four such events over the next two years, a rare cluster.  More astonishingly, this one falls on the First Day of Passover, Pesach.  Another will fall next year on April 4, which will also be Pesach.  The other two will come in the fall and coincide with the Jewish harvest festival, Sukkot. 
Such a confabulation of events has the pulses of celestial conspiracy theorists pounding.  John Hagee, an Evangelical pastor has hit pay dirt with a Christian best seller, Four Blood Moons in which he claims the events predict God’s wrathful judgment on sinful America.  You may have seen him, he was scheduled to be all over the media, including the Today Show this morning.
Of course Astronomers pooh-pa all of that.  And I’m not buying what Hagee is peddling.  But as regular readers of this blog or my poor verse might note, I am fond of contemplating possible meanings for such instances of serendipity.
As you probably remember Passover refers to a terrible night on which the Lord God visited death on the first born sons of all Egypt in a last brutal sign to Pharaoh to let his slaves, the Jews, go to freedom.  The Lord told Moses to instruct his people to smear lambs blood on their door posts as a sign that their homes should be passed over by this last and most awful of seven plagues.  It worked.  Pharaoh released the Jews who picked up their belongings and followed Moses.  Of course the old king later thought better of it and set out after the fugitives with his chariots and army.  You know the rest of the story.  If not, consult Exodus or Cecil B. DeMille.
The Jews commemorate all of this in the Passover dinner, the Seder.  The way the tale is told is a celebration of liberation and freedom not just of their ancient ancestors, but of all people everywhere.  American slaves took heart from the same story and sang about their quest for freedom in the same light.   It is an inspiring, up lifting story.
But it has always had a dark side, almost forgotten, glossed over, or muttered under the breath—the fate of all of those Egyptian children.  It is easy to do, especially if you envision only the sons of Pharaoh and his court—a just punishment for a king who had ordered the slaughter of Jewish babes when he got wind of a rumor that a liberator would be born among them.  But death was visited not just on the elite, but upon all Egypt and families of every class and caste.  And that sounds, to modern ears, a bit harsh.
At Seder meals Jews acknowledge this in singing Dayenu:
Verse 3:
            If He had destroyed their idols,        
            and had not smitten their first-born   
            — Dayenu, it would have sufficed!              
Verse 4:
            If He had smitten their first-born,                 
and had not given us their wealth                  
— Dayenu, it would have sufficed!
All of this got me wondering…do the lives of one set of innocents have to be the price for the freedom and safety of another people?  Are the babes and children of Dresden, Hiroshima, or some dusty village on the Afghan frontier God’s just collateral damage for our noble freedom?  Do Palestinian dead buy just safety for a people nearly exterminated by others?
Uncomfortable questions, and undoubtedly ones some would wish un-asked.
Buckle up.  I am about to commit sacrilege.

Blood Moon/Egyptian Passover
April 15/2014

Was there a Blood Moon
that terrible night
long, long ago?

Khonsu, Disk of the Moon
            was eaten,
            turning the color
            of old blood.
The wails of the women
            leapt from house to house,
            hovel to tent,
            it is said even to
            the palaces themselves.
The curses of the men
            bearing the limp bodies
            of their sons
            into the dark air
            damning the Moon
                        the Jews,
                                    Pharaoh himself.

What quarrel between bondsmen,
            the mighty and their Priests
            belongs to them, not us.
We are the farmers,
            fishers of the River      
                        and the seas,
            the shepherds, the weavers,
            the folk who cast pots,
            the brewers of beer,
            the molders of simple brick
                        from mud and dung,
            the house slaves
                        and wet nurses,
            the prostitutes…
What care we for those palaces,
            those temples,
                        those monuments,
those damnable tombs,
                        or the slaves who build them!

No Jews dug our wells,
            laid course of simple brick
            for our homes,
            piled a single stone on stone
            on our graves
            to save our dead
            from the jackals.

Yet they called down on us
            the frogs,
            spoiled our grain
            with locust,
            stoned our kids and lambs
            to death by hail,
            our flesh that erupted
            in festering boils.

And now our very sons!

What harm did they do you,
            you Jews?

If your damn God
            is so powerful
            why did you not call him
            to just wipe out Pharaoh,
                        the Priests,
                                    the Generals in their chariots,
                                                and all their minions
            who have had their sandals
            on our necks
            since time began?

Such a God would be
worth worshiping!
Your freedom—and ours—
would be one!

—Patrick Murfin

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