This week poet CM Davidson struggles with the theme of poverty and Isaiah 58:6-11:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Woke this morning two snoozes past
the alarm’s first call. Showered. Dressed.
Breakfasted on a bowl of puffed rice and milk
and three cups of coffee. Asked my wife
for Kaiser’s number, since my shoulder aches.
Gathered things in my bag and drove in my car
my son to school, myself to work, where
I wasted time online, talked on the phone
with a colleague, entered a budget by deadline.
From those who live under the overpass I pass
daily, I’m told I’m concealed, and from
the imprisoned and hungry with nothing to wear
I’d wear myself, I’m concealed.
My body I’m told is distorted by nourishment,
my shirt, shoes and pants hide me from my kin.
I’m told the sadness I feel everyday
will be a light by which to see, if I act,
that our sadness, people, I’m convinced
it’s more than just me, is a latent garden,
a spring of water, a continual, renewing spring
of water, light and water bringing, through
action in leaves described and unlearned,
food for the table. This is the promise,
dejection the goad. Our parents in exile
sang to each other songs of a land like this—
their hope was in it, and we have it.
From the Artist:
The passage from what’s called “Third Isaiah” suggested a process as natural as photosynthesis: Fast by action, in this case, free the oppressed and give what you (as a people) have to those among you who need it. The result will be God’s favor, restoration, and greater abundance than you already enjoy.
Walter Brueggemann provide conceptual grist for the poem. He writes, of this passage,
It turned out that the “facts on the ground” in restored Jerusalem were modest and shabby when contrasted with the lyrical anticipations of Second Isaiah.1
This helped me think of the narrator as someone who, in the midst of his comfort and security, feels ill at ease, dislocated. This is a common theme for literature of the last couple hundred years, but it was new to me to think that the source of that dislocation is that the privileged are the invisible ones, not the poor (verse 7). The existence of poverty and injustice doesn’t divide us from “the other” but from our brothers and sisters, from—it seems banal to write it so directly—ourselves. It should be said that what attracted me to these verses is not equivalent to what the poem expresses. As all poems do, this one found its own path.
1 Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination
CM Davidson’s work has appeared in Zyzzyva, Green Mountains Review, Zocalo Public Square, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He lives in Southern California with his wife and sons. He sporadically keeps up a blog, 52songs.blogspot.com.
This poem is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.
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