Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Luc Olivier Merson, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


In Merson’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Joseph’s dwindling fire sends up
a fine white line of smoke into the dim sky.
Perfectly perpendicular to the horizon’s dark blur,
it makes a small cross, easily overlooked.

But to my mind that detail is as important
as the sphinx’s upturned face staring blindly
into heaven, looking at the stars and pondering
the unknown Maker, not looking at the face
of the one who made them all.

As important as the glow emanating from the child
snuggled on Mary’s lap as she sleeps
between the sphinx’s great stone arms,
so tired and so secure. She sleeps untroubled
by the dreams that haunt the sphinx’s sleep —or Joseph’s.

As important as the donkey who turns his back
on the other sleepers. The donkey who reminds us
of that other donkey who will one day carry the king
into his holy city, who will one day carry the sacrifice
towards the end that was ordained before the stars
or the sands were made or counted.

That smoke rising from the fire like incense,
like prayers rising up to heaven, like
the flame from the burning bush,
like the pillar of smoke that shepherded
the people out of Egypt so long ago,
like the Son of Man who will one day be lifted up,

perfectly perpendicular, on the cross beams,
connecting in his wide embrace earth and heaven,
reaching out towards all the ends of the earth
to gather all his people to rest beneath his wide wings.


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