Such a tame name for a man
born to inhabit the wild side
of heaven’s incursion.
You startle children with
your leather-girdled, camel-haired attire,
hot breath bidding the devout
into Jordan’s penitential wake,
the same waters that marked
the boundary of beneficence: of the Hebrew
slaves’ long march from Pharaoh’s provision
(the latter hard, to be sure, but also secure)
to Providence of another, riskier kind,
though laced with promise of milk and honey.
What drove you to this scorched abode,
abounding in wild beasts, hostile foes
and scarce sustenance?
The shape of your profile
was cockeyed from conception:
born to parents long since impotent and barren;
your father stunned speechless by
the angel’s approach;
your future yoked with that of Elijah,
ancient antagonist to royal deceit.
(And you paid with your head.)
What was it in Mary’s voice that prompted
your recoil in Elizabeth’s womb?
And why the abandonment of familial legacy
in the choice of your name?
What incredulous politics is this that the
Word of God would bypass
lordly Tiberius and Pilate,
princely Philip and Lysanias,
priestly Annas and Caiaphas,
to locate you, of honey-smeared beard,
amid such remote and wayward landscape?
Spirit-drenched baptizer of repentant flesh,
exposing shameful inheritance to the Advent
of mercy and an anthem of praise.
Lonely minstrel of pledged Betrothal,
announcing dawn’s infiltration
of destiny’s dark corner,
scattering death’s shadow with
the footfalls of peace.
Witness to dove’s descent, reversing heaven’s
flooding threat with lauded applause
to Mary’s assent and Messiah’s demand
for hills’ prostration and valleys’ upheaval.
Speak, John: Roar the Complaint against every
crooked and cragged thoroughfare.
Should the elect resist, the stones themselves
will produce heirs worthy of Abram’s fealty.
Echo the insistent Refrain: revive, return, repair.
Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
The baptizer’s bargain is this: Enter these
waters at the risk of self-absorbed survival.
A certain drowning is needed for lungs to receive
Breath From Above on wings of the dove.
Vipers, beware! The baptized prepare.