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Mud-splotched, chiggered, thorn-matted hair
and beard, naked, a scurried, spidery-
crawl on all fours, snarls, bellows, less human
the more they heard: the man squatted atop
a summit of scree and howled. Jesus
disembarked the boat; his disciples stayed.
Vine-webbed cave tombs of the Gadarenes
loomed as home. Jesus held out his hand.
The man wailed, flung stones, sun-caked feces.
Don’t torture me, Son of the Most High.
Eyes rolled back white, his mouth foamed.
Rusted manacles tore his wrists and ankles raw.
Gently, Jesus asked his name. His eyes re-
aligned, red-veined, fogged. Black pupils
darted like two wrens desperate to escape.
He spat at Jesus, fanged his claws. Each word
seemed aimed with venom. Legion, for we
are many. As Jesus approached, the man raked
his chest, tormented. He growled. Jesus spoke
too soft to hear, but spirit entities, burrowed
in like termites, heard. In echoing echoes they
commandeered the voice and cried: Don’t send us
into the Abyss! Have mercy! A herd
of two thousand swine cropping a nearby slope
became new hosts: in moments, mass panic,
a stampede to suicide. Headed for the lake,
they took the cliffs. Their drowning feat was a
spectacle their herders rushed off to tell. The town
ran back, terrified that their demoniac sat clothed,
clear-minded, freed. Begged to leave, Jesus did.
And later around a driftwood fire of bent
cypress knees and sea-encrusted gnarls
that logged the deeps and washed ashore,
and now scaled fire rungs to palaces of smoke
as waves of ash flakes snowing up, white-
hot from enlightened embers’ diamond facets,
someone asked: was the wild man demented
or a soul of fractured selves? Or an
infestation? another added. Carpets of surf
unrolled in and trickled out. Jesus smoothed
the sand he drew on. Star-sparks crackled
overhead. If the body is a temple indwelt by evil
spirits, a disciple said, do they trespass or does
sin invite them in? What else inhabits us?
In which other realms do we and they abide?
Is heaven like Mount Hermon, only higher, an
endlessness of spring, of mild weather?
Jesus sipped a cup of water. They had eaten fish,
herb-garnished bread, olives, leeks, halawi dates.
He said, When an unclean spirit comes out
and goes through arid places and returns with
others more wicked, the final condition is worse–
the man wore his own filth, welts, cuts, bites–
each recalled his snarls and tortured yelps. I give
you power over the enemy: to tread on scorpions
and snakes. Some only leave with prayer and
fasting. I’d rather wrestle a lion, one of the inner
circle said. Or rope Leviathan. I saw Satan fall,
Jesus said. Nothing will harm you. An oak trunk
hissed, flame-possessed. Smoke hovered, drifted off.
Michael Borich has published poems in various journals, including The New Yorker, Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and others. His book, The Black Hawk Songs, was published in 1975 by the University of Illinois Press.These two sections are from his manuscript Immanuel, which he describes as “not a retelling of the Gospel narratives, as such, but exploring the nuances and contexts and, for me, fascinating people who surrounded Jesus.”