The sun’s full disc lifts clear of hills,
whitens, and chases purple shadows
from the land. He was up before it,
has recited thirty psalms and bared
his conscience in the face of God.
A lizard living in a cleft beside
the cave’s dry mouth – his closest neighbour –
moves into sunlight, patient for
warming of its blood. The hermit, moistening
his tongue with brackish water, breaks
his fast – with one dry biscuit and
three dates kept by from yesterday.
Soon pilgrims and the penitents
will come. They camp at the oasis,
out of sound and sight, now pick
their way across the warming sand.
Many have come bare-foot. Each waits
their turn to tell the saint of cheap
adulteries and tedious deceits,
complain about unfaithful husbands,
shiftless sons. Many ask counsel;
few will follow what is given.
Some gawp into his cell, devoid
of all possessions. Only a water jar,
a codex of the scriptures, occupy
the space. They will not guess he holds
sometimes, a dozen rounded pebbles,
a palm-fibre ball, inside the folds
of his rough threadbare robe.
After the final visitor recedes
across the hill and he has said
the vesper office, final psalms,
he may take up these trifles and
beguile the last light, concentrated
on some game that he had played
from childhood, letting the demands
of daytime fall away, the demons
of the night all stand aside and kick
their heels, excluded from the circle,
from the charmed arena of his play.
Tony Lucas lives in London, south of the river. Stride published some of his early work, and he was a regular contributor to Ambit for a good number of years, among other magazines. His latest collection, Unsettled Accounts, was published by Stairwell Books, two years ago.