Self-Portrait as Minor Prophet

By Craig Van Rooyen

Not the one who foretells 
our city become a jackals’ haunt 
or our silver turned to dross.

Rather, the one who needs a grocery list
from his wife with the precise level of yogurt fat 
underlined and the aisle number

for the hypo-allergenic soap
so he will not wander, masked, into 
the floral section to be with orchids,

their double stems of moth wings 
looking nothing like fields stripped by foreigners 
or hands hinged in prayer.

Woe to you with more than 10 items
in express checkout, he may think.
Woe to you who do not stand six feet apart.

But he does not proclaim their downfall
or predict their cattle slaughtered, their
gardens trampled underfoot. 

I have seen enough buying and selling by now 
to know I am a product, packaged 
for someone else’s comfort, and to know

in this too I will fail. The truth is, my people, 
we were always sheltered alone 
and for mysterious reasons never knew it. 

After 24 years with one woman
I still wonder with whom I will awake:
Sword or plowshare; flint horse hoof

or threshing floor, wasteland or vineyard
where grape skins crack from the pressure
of flesh and juice answering sun.

Plant something green, for Christ’s sake, she says.
So I order packets and packets
of mixed seeds. Butterhead, Arugula,

Romaine, Bibb, Kale and Endive,
Looseleaf and Radicchio, thousands
of seeds mixed up in the dark,

rubbing their brown, pocked bodies
together, tumbling and whispering
and rattling against each other. 

I do not obey the recommended spacing, 
instead pour congregations into 
shallow trenches, yields be damned. 

When they leaf this summer, 
I’ll let them jostle up toward the sky, 
a gospel choir of green.

And even in the time of harvest, I will
let them bolt, rocketing stalks of crimped buds
upward to erupt in petal hallelujahs. 

In that day, my planter will become 
a swarm of butterflies. I think it is all sky 
in the end, I think it is flight.

This is what the prophet saw: 
Instead of emptiness 
there will be a churning of wings. 


Craig Van Rooyen is a poet living on the Central Coast of California. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best New Poets 2018, 32 Poems, Cincinnati Review, Narrative, New Ohio Review, Ploughshares, Rattle, Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, and elsewhere. He is a past winner of the Rattle Poetry Prize, a finalist for the Narrative Poetry Prize, and a runner-up for the Auburn Witness Poetry Prize.

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