The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt

Elijah

(Context: 2 Kings 2:11)

In this whirlwind, time explodes. Identity returns. A sudden loss of forgetting, and I know why I am here.

I drop into history from somewhere else, as fruit drops onto random earth when time and weather tear it from the tree. I land without a name, without a past, a mission made flesh, cursed with the confusion of the newborn, without a mother’s care, blessed with just enough language to say what the Lord demands that I must say.

As I enter this whirlwind, my memory starts, recoils from the events that it now puts in order. The awakening this time: in Gilead, naked, frightened, in the corner of a field, the settlers demanding, “What is your name? Why are you here?” A name? The struggle to remember what a name might be. The shout from my lips of what I have been brought here to say: “My god is the Lord!” They hear that as my name, assume that is my name, so my name becomes what they repeat: Elijah.

Ends. Beginnings. A slashed scroll, a palimpsest of a life with flashes of purpose amid discontinuity. Now I am in Gilead, given a robe and leather belt;

a breath later, I stand before the king and am surprised to hear myself tell him that the Lord has declared that there will be a drought;

stepping back, turning, and I am no longer in the palace, now running through forest, toward the Jordan, hiding by a brook, huddled, no sense of why I am still alive, still here, no sense of what to do;

after a little time or a long time I am starving, until the sound of ravens stabs my ears, yet they are friends, they gather around me, they bring me morsels of bread and meat, feeding me as they would feed their young, dropping food into my mouth as I lay there;

I turn my head, and the brook from which I have drunk is dry, and I have exhausted the kindness of the ravens;

again I am running, weak, afraid, but I must get to Tsarfat, to a widow in Tsarfat who I know will feed me;

the widow and her son are about to eat their final meal, about to die, but I know (how do I know?) that if they feed me, the food and water will grow and sustain them much longer;

then the widow is weeping and the child appears to have died, until I lay him on my bed and lie down with him, and I breathe into his mouth and he revives, and the widow is drawn to believe in my god;

(and I see her looking at me with seems to be affection, though I am ugly, in every life ugly, though I am cursed with the permanent gaze of a madman, and I see the three of us together, and I wonder if this is what love is like, if this is what being in a family is like);

and again I am torn away and torn away, shouting at kings and bargaining with demons, performing tricks that lead to worship of my god and that slaughter those who follow other gods;

and again I am running and am hiding and crying: in the moments when I do not have to perform as a prophet, I am lost, despairing, with no idea who I am or why I should continue to live, until again the still small voice resounds in my head, sends me running again, tells me that I must pursue another mission in another town;

and I run. And I shout. And I preach. And my prophecy is fulfilled. And I run. And I hide. And I despair. And the voices whisper. And I am running. Repeating. Beginning. Ending.

But now when I am running I am not alone, for I am with Elisha, my daring Elisha, devoted, dogged Elisha, who was never born to be a prophet, never housed by Obadiah, never hidden with the daughters of Jephthah. But when I threw my cloak in the air, it chose to fall on him. I ran to him and wrapped the cloak around him and around myself, and I saw in his eyes a beckoning emptiness that reflected, absorbed, returned, corrected and fulfilled the emptiness in mine. So he kissed his family farewell, slew his flock to feed us, and learned to be a prophet (though for all his conviction, he still weeps when delivering the Lord’s harsher decrees).

And when the voice told me, today at dawn, that this would be my last day among the people, I felt my presence fracturing in space. Suddenly I was in Gilgal, suddenly in Bethel, suddenly in Jericho, now suddenly at the bank of the Jordan. But through all the discontinuities, Elisha has been with me, never thrown by the disruptions, never despairing of following me, always by my side.

And now that I have again thrown down my mantle and have crossed the river in its wake, he has crossed along with me. I feel myself dissolving, losing my contact with this world, with the orders of time, yet his presence, his will keeps me here.

I look into his eyes; they probe mine with a fervor and tenacity that anchors me to them, that will not allow me to leave. I cry out to him, “What must I do for you before you can let me go?”

“Let a double portion of your spirit stay with me,” he says. “Let me be your heir, so that I may continue your work.”

I do not know how to do this, or what a double portion of spirit might be. “The power,” I say, “is already in your eyes. If you can let go, can see me off without regret, then it will be so, but the longer you keep me here, the more shattering and difficult my departure will become. More of my spirit will be lost.”

Elisha is nodding, releasing his soul’s grasp on mine. I feel myself loosed from the demands of this world and feel my soul announce that I am ready to go.

And the world is blurring, swirling around me, and the last portions of my self are flying out of the whirlwind and joining with Elisha — releasing his claim, he has become open to receive what he could not actively take. I hear his voice calling out to me from outside my storm, from within his sudden vision — “My father! My father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” — and the whirlwind takes on the image of a chariot and horses of fire, and I feel myself rising with them, not up from this world but out of it, out of time, out of any sense that any place is far away or near.

And I am resolving into my higher self. My mantle falls from my back, drifting out of the storm toward Elisha, as four broad wings emerge from my back. And I see myself as I truly am, distributed among worlds, among histories, dropped into lives where the Lord needs me, to teach, to cajole, to convince, to lead the souls of people and others closer to truly seeing each other and seeing the Lord.

And I know that I will again feel trapped in the shards of reality, not knowing who I am or why I exist, but each time I will be redeemed, I will survive. And people will tell stories of my appearances, calling me Pinchas, Jochanan, the mysterious beggar, the visitor from the Lord, the invisible traveller who samples their wine. And some may even glimpse me in my true body, outside of matter, and may call me by my real name, Sandalphon.

And some may not realize that they saw me at all, except that there was an odd person at the edge of their vision in a moment when the world opened up for them and caused them to change their way, in an epiphany, perhaps unconscious, that led them to do an unexpected moment’s kindness or to be better to another or to themselves.

But for now, I am fading into the fire, joyous, renewed. My moment here is ended. I know who I was. I know who I am. And my chariot is here.

(Next: David.)

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June 30, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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