Balaam—by Barbara D. Holender

“Come and curse this nation for me” (Balak, Num. 22:6)
“Since God has blessed them, I cannot reverse it.” (Balak, Num. 23:20)

How can I tell you what came over me?
Not that the beast found her voice–
any simple sorcerer can pull that trick–
but that I, the most articulate of men,
lost mine. It was as if a spell seized me;
my mind was perfectly clear, I knew
exactly my mission and, being practical,
I always find for the one who pays my rent.
It was my own mouth betrayed me.

No surprise, then, that I missed the messenger
on the road. There was no messenger.
Not then. Not for me. My thoughts were fixed
on the perfect phrase, the lethal message.
He’s smart, that Jewish God, he’s hard
to get around. But I’ve matched wits with gods
from everywhere in the neighborhood
and bested them. Not Him. Not then, not now.

You see, when I went up once and twice
it was God’s word that filled my mouth,
I stood helpless as he used me.
But the last time, from the heights, I myself
saw the multitude of the enemy in a vision
of tranquillity, though they were poised for war,

saw them arrayed as on a peaceful plain,
though they were fired to devour
all who might stand against them.

Their God filled my being, a passion
overcame me, I was one with them,
and the words that poured from my mouth
were my own. I swear it. Then their God
undid me completely, setting me
to curse the one who could reward me,
Balak, and he in turn cast me out unpaid.

What will sustain me now?
The Israelites will not have me, Balak
has put his curse on me, few words
as he has in his head. My home
is not my home, my life is not my life,
what I knew does not know me.
Only the God who entered me
knows me. But having learned to bless,
perhaps I may find ease in blessing Him,
that He bless me. Strange are His ways.