Ode to St. Anthony of Egypt

Of all the saints, my Anthony,
I love you best. For you did
what I long to do: you walked away
from a life of comfort and ease,
walked away from the green Nile valley
out across the sand and into the
desert of the human heart.
Alone, you dug out a cell,
blew a kiss to the mad world,
and tucked yourself in for the long soul’s night.
And when the demons came,
as demons will, you fought them off
with the sign of the cross and the sweet
name of Our Lord—the name that
nourished you when there was no bread,
the name that moistened your lips
in a dry and barren land.
Anthony, I can count the ribs
just beneath your cracked skin,
the whiskers hang down like dried seaweed,
the dirt and dust cake your every wrinkle.
Come, let me guide you down to the river
where I may wash you, and oil your skin,
and trim your nails and tie back your hair.
Anthony, Anthony, sit on this rock with me
and tell me how it is to lose so much,
and then to give what’s left away,
and then to forget what’s been lost and given
in the good and strong arms of Our Lord.
Here, let me place some honey on your tongue.
Can you yet hear the water trickling
down the dim back wall of your cave?
This steady stream that kept you alive,
that overflowed your cupped hands,
the stream that ran beyond your humble cell,
filling first the desert within and then without,
the stream that still flows on and on,
my Anthony, even though you’re gone.
This stream of living water from which
I now sip and thirst no more, I offer to you,
dear reader, in memory of this beloved saint.

David Denny teaches English at De Anza College in Cupertino, California.

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"Ode to St. Anthony of Egypt"
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