Loaves, Fishes

Lost, stolen — the old man
could no longer remember —
gone, impoverishing him
for good: the ruby cut like glass

to form a tiny oval window
through which his master
could peer so that the day
he slit his wrists wine-soaked

happy Brundisium
would look through his stone
as bloody as the bowl
Gaius had given him.

Once he owned thirty goats.
Now road dirt, dust
on his feet were his household
gods, no weaker than the ones

he’d swiped from his master’s
mantel. He squats in a fig grove.
His bloody stools stink
and steam. Figs cramp his guts

worse than seeds or nuts.
Spirit birds fly near
the moon whose light
each night unweaves

more threads from his threadbare
life, his only shelter caves
that lie too near
where the dead sleep,

shuddering like lashed slaves
he would have forgiven
had their cries, screams
not ruined his rest.

Take, eat: loaves, fishes.
Strip off your sackcloth.
Do not hide your faces.
No longer deceive the Lord

your God. Wear new clothes.
Love your neighbor
as yourself, you who
will leave me one by one.

However much the crowd
devours, the basket never
empties. He grabs more grub
than he can eat to save

for hungry days ahead.
Naked except for a tattered
loin cloth, a boy leans
against an old oak god,

its thinnest roots thicker
than his arms. His nose’s
been gnawed, his tongue’s
a stub, his fingers nubs.

Careful not to touch
his sores, the old man
cracks open his pouch
to offer him a taste of fish.

The boy struggles to eat,
swallows, and chokes on a bone.
The old man pounds
on his back hard until he spits

it out. The sliver on his finger
is as white as a tooth
from an old ivory comb, the last
of his master’s things he’d sold.

No more fish for the boy,
but instead just bread soaked
soft in wine he can easily steal
from a crowd weary

from too much food and talk,
like his master at his last meal,
leaving behind so many
fine bottles undrunk.

number 22 in the 2River Chapbook Series