Joseph’s Bones

The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem, in the portion of the land Jacob had bought from the children of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for one hundred pieces of money; it became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. (Joshua 24:32)

Impossibly long the trail
that leads from there to here,
up from parted water
through empty desolations
no one cares to own,
to a stopping place safe
from the whip, beneath a willow tree.
The earth is weeping.
Each step is a tear,
witness to the passage of his bones.

He is laid to rest —
if there is such a thing as rest
in this migrant life, always
moving with the rhythms of the world,
one step ahead of terror,
one step short of grace.
His father bought this land, they say.
He is at peace, they say.
It is inheritance, they say,
this land, this rock-hewn charnel for his bones.

But who belongs here? Who knows
any peace but the sweet caress
of the morning breeze, the fiery breath
of the midday sun, the cold rebuke
of the night-wind beneath the silent stars?
You claim this dirt, even
at the cost of blood and bitter gall.
The deed may be in hand
but you will not keep it,
and no case, no defense will be offered by the bones.

Others will inherit, too, in time,
when you have gone, scaled
another chain-link fence, waded
another muddy river, passed beneath
another scowling border guard
with a rifle eager for a lucky shot.
Move on, move on, until the earth reveals
its pillow for your head,
its blanket for your chill,
its inheritance for your lonely bones.

PAUL HOOKER is a teaching elder member of New Covenant Presbytery and associate dean for ministerial formation and advanced studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.