The hills that Joseph meditated on
were black and just a bit like elephants,
but if somehow they counterpointed dawn,
there was no sign of its deliverance.
“Beloved, my beloved, how?—and why!”
Against her tenderly-appearing age,
a crowd of raging thoughts must have cried out,
though Joseph, being just, would want to try
to reach beyond the shock, beyond outrage,
but being just a man, he was in doubt.

A crowd of raging thoughts needs little time,
within these darkened hours, to choose their stones—
and ample human rules declare such crime
is justly served that way. But something hones
a different justice now, perhaps, because
although disgrace might be removed, it would
still be his life that was exposed, not just
her shame. A quiet way to use the laws
might do, and be better understood;
an undesired divorce—it seems he must.

“Beloved, my beloved, why? And how?”
Rages will find reasons and furies find
their forms, and what cannot be bullied now,
can be beguiled, and later redesigned:
the crowd of raging thoughts would not be through
with this man’s mind just yet. For after all,
she might be held in secret isolation
before divorce, and then for all to view,
the grief exposed outside the village wall—
a gift to shepherds, dogs, or desolation.

The root of raging thoughts mismeasured him,
for God chose Joseph, too, and not just Mary,
and love is Love, not just some treasured whim,
so vengeful thoughts were merely momentary
and were deliberately put out of mind.
The source of grief, of every leering laugh,
was not to be abortively exposed
outside the village wall. He was resigned
and likely clutching hard on to his staff,
his torment slowly spinning down, he dozed.

Asleep, how often we have ears to hear
what we can’t hear when we’re awake—we’re prone
to miss that anger’s root is often fear,
and often fear has root in the unknown,
but soon in Joseph’s sleep, the still small love
from Yahweh: Joseph do not be afraid,
it shushed, to take home Mary as your wife,
for that which is conceived in her is of-
the Holy Spirit. Perfect Love thus made
his fear depart and faith become a life.

The elephantine hills were never black-
ened by despair again, nor were they white-
ened by the stark and unforgiving wrack
of desert glare; instead, the wholesome light
of dawn began to open Joseph’s eyes,
to sigh, to touch his hair and stroke his hand.
His fingers soon unconsciously uncurled,
color returned, and he began to rise;
and with a love that he had never planned,
became step-father of a blended world.



Daniel Kemper is a systems engineer living in California.

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15 Responses

  1. Yael

    Nice poem!
    I think there’s a typo in the second line of the last stanza. It should probably be “were” instead of “where”.

  2. Margaret Coats

    Pithy language working out a characterization in scrupulous psychological detail. Explaining any process of thought is a challenge, and here you needed to imagine as well as describe the process. Very well done! I notice the many repetitions of the term “just,” and the care with which you develop this one definite thing we know about the saint. Indeed, this “blended world” has desperate need of a Holy Father, and you begin this year dedicated to him with a worthy portrait.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Oh my goodness, thanks a ton for that, Margaret. I did put a lot of thought into this. I wasn’t really sure how it would go~

  3. Cynthia Erlandson

    I think this is a very impressive portrait! The first two lines of the second verse are my favorites. I love the way the rhyme scheme is carried through. (And “elephants/deliverance” is especially original!)

    • Daniel Kemper

      I’m glad this landed with some impact and some freshness. It’s extra nice to see that the risky elephant rhyme worked. It was tough enough to work them in unobtrusively. Thanks again for your read and response!

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Daniel, this is breathtakingly beautiful. My favorite lines are; “and love is Love, not just some treasured whim,/so vengeful thoughts were merely momentary”, and Joseph’s love shines greater than his dilemma throughout. For me, this poem not only gives greater insight into the enormity of Joseph’s role, but it speaks of all those stepfathers out there who embrace the children of those they love. Thank you!

    • Daniel Kemper

      O Susan, your thoughtful, heart-felt commentary really puff my chest up. Thank you. I really thought a lot about what Joseph must have gone through. That it’s largely unsung doubled up with me when I came upon some commenter who believed that he might have been mute, since no words of his are recorded. (Pretty iffy, I think.) That added some incentive to get his mind out there, as it were. Very satisfying to hear that you think I did well with it.

  5. C.B. Anderson

    The complicated ideas presented in this poem, Daniel, are not always easy to follow, but strict attention to the letter of the words invariably leads to full understanding. Here we have a balance between a high degree of difficulty (for both writer and reader) and the immense satisfaction of resolving a problem simply by observing closely the details going into, and coming out of, the text itself. It was subtle, nearly sublime.

    • Daniel Kemper

      C.B. this might be the best commentary I’ve gotten all year. Thank you! Quick question: Do you think I overdid or underdid the nod to Hemmingway?

  6. C.B. Anderson

    Forgive me, Daniel, but I’m afraid that I don’t quite know what you mean by “the nod to Hemmingway.” If you care to explain, then I will gladly answer your question as best I can.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Upon reflection, Daniel, the fact that I did not pick up on it carries a strong implication that, if anything, you underdid it.


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