The Author of Torah

By Alfred Corn b. 1943 Alfred Corn
The blessing safely lifted onto Joshua’s shoulders,
Moses climbed up Mount Nebo, high above Moab.
Tendons winced as he bent to retie a sandal, and haze
flooded his vision, which had nothing to see
(or black rock and scrub thorn only) until he stopped
and said, I will wait here for the voice of the Most High.

You showed him all the land—
Gilead, the hills of Ephraim and Manasseh,
from Judah to the western sea as far as Zoar.
And said: Your eyes have seen what I promised,
yet, because at Meribah-Kadesh
you failed to manifest the holiness I am,
you do not go in.

At that distance and from the heights
Moses stood and watched as the children
of Israel began the westward trek.
His sight strengthened and he saw each one.
The mother, thin and staring, bent down
to take her firstborn’s hand,
who cried and then laughed.
The young brothers with new beards
and faces blackened by years in Sinai, strode along
carrying all they had rolled up in a sheepskin.
The white-haired elder and his mourning wife,
whose only daughter was lost in the desert,
stalked slowly forward without speaking.
An orphaned girl, her cousin, and her cousin’s husband
discussed it quietly and held hands.
A concert of voices, murmurs, cries, laughter,
rising, falling, babbling like water,
the fountain of Meribah-Kadesh that sprang
from a wall of rock in the desert
when Moses struck it with his staff.

Days of his life returned to him.
One last time he saw Miriam’s serious gaze
during the hours of instruction. He recalled
the harp players in Pharaoh’s summer palace;
white noonday and the shadow of his hand
raised to strike the Egyptian overseer;
Zipporah’s fear and trust when Jethro urged her forward;
the brush-tree that spoke out in tongues of fire;
Egypt’s plagues; blood on the doorposts for a sign;
the exiles’ safe conduct across marshlands
among bulrushes as seabirds called overhead;
mutiny and lightning in the desert;
a pillar of smoke by day, and fire by night.

The moment drew near as those he was
bound to and had contended with went up
to a land of hills dusted with the first spring green.
Sheep stopped their grazing to stare; like an intake
of breath, a lull suspended the low hum
hovering around hillsides in flower.
His eyes filled with tears. And silver bands of sun
broke from a veil of cloud overhead
down to the plain of Moab, lighting the face
of Joshua on one side, so that half
remained in shadow.

At that moment Moses was taken to his people.
His body is said to be buried at Beth-Peor, yet
the grave has never been found.

The grave has never been found—
and Joshua led the Israelites westward into Canaan.

Alfred Corn, “The Author of Torah” from Contradictions. Copyright © 2002 by Alfred Corn. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271,

Source: Contradictions: Poems (2002)

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Poet Alfred Corn b. 1943

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects History & Politics, Judaism, Religion, Social Commentaries

 Alfred  Corn


American author Alfred Corn has published ten books of poems, including Stake: Selected Poems, 1972-1992 (1999) and, most recently, Unions (2014). He has also published a novel, Part of His Story, a study of prosody The Poem’s Heartbeat, and two collections of critical essays, The Metamorphoses of Metaphor and Atlas: Selected Essays, 1989-2007. His second novel, Miranda’s Book, will be published in late 2014.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT History & Politics, Judaism, Religion, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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