A song about a stranger
by ryk mcintyre
[ poetry - december 06 ]
We have only known him for hours now,
we are not sure why we do not like him.
We are not unfriendly to strangers,
we just don't like him.
Still, we give him wine and oranges
the best place next to the fire.
He is free to choose a sleeping companion,
everyone hopes it isn't them.
We do not like him now
any more than we liked him when
he followed his poor sandals
to the oasis where we live.
We raised our hands in greeting,
suddenly regretted it.
We sighed relief when he said
he could only stay overnight,
and he would not have a companion.
Could he have some wine and oranges?
The desert had taken its toll on him.
But he will not let us wash him.
He says he will pay for our kindness
with a story by the fireside.
He is silhouetted by wavering light
he speaks in a voice we do not trust.
And though our women smell of sandalwood,
and our young men are strong,
he sits alone by the fireplace.
The night breezes disappear.
He begins to speak, and though we do not like him,
perhaps we can still learn something. We listen,
but we do not like his story
when it is still young upon his lips.
His hair keeps his eyes hidden,
but we each feel he is staring
deep into us. He is rude, but we are hosts:
we suffer silently, we dare not speak.
He barely drinks his wine,
it's as if he cannot smell the oranges.
We cannot hear the wind for his words
he begins to tell his story...
It is hours later that he pauses,
rips the skin off of oranges;
swallows wine he does not enjoy;
will not meet our eyes.
A woman holds a sleeping child.
He looks at them as if he knows something.
The stranger's face saddens, softens.
He tells us he has forgotten
what it is to feel safe. As if that,
alone, would explain.
He sips wine he does not enjoy.
He never looks comfortable.
We are a village kind to strangers
but we do not like this man.
He picks up the threads of his narrative,
it is a story about killing.
We are a peaceful village. Does he think
we would forget ourselves?
His story ends. He has told us
plainly, how he killed his brother.
We hate this man,
we would strike him if we could.
But there is already blood upon him.
We are compelled to stop... then he leaves.
Suddenly we smell oranges,
become aware of sleeping children.
The fire is high, warming us.
We did not know that we had wept.
We cannot look one another in the eyes,
we will never be as kind as we were before.
Our village seems smaller against
an uncertain sky. The sky seems emptier of God.