First published in Everyday Weirdness, 31 March 2010.
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So he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. – 1 Kings 17:5-6
On your first day in the desert, they will bring you food. Fruit, soft and pitted and spongy-dry, they will pierce with their thin red feet and carry to you. And because they are kind, they will bring you better things: scarlet scraps from the mouths of fledglings, tender with fat and blood, or the thin-boned bodies of songbirds so fresh that their feathers shine.
Brothers, you will say—for like all your kind, you are proud—I thank you for these gifts, but I have no need of your food.
As you wish, they will say, but they will leave the food before you. In the night you may grow hungry, and have need of it.
On your second day in the desert, you will look down at your hands and see that they are dry and cracking, and the cracks are filling with sand. Your palms are angry red and raw.
The ravens will hear your cries, and because they are kind they will come to you, singing and straining their wings through the dusty sky. Their onyx beaks will point you west, toward the cliffs in the heart of the desert and the soft nests built in their shade.
Brothers, you will say, I thank you, but the cliffs are far away, and no place for me to sleep.
As you wish, they will say, but a few will linger overhead. The sun is hot, the moon is pale and cold, and in the night you may awake and need a guide to shelter.
On your third day in the desert, you will sprawl headlong in the burning sand, too weak to stand or walk. You will raise your fingers to your eyes, your lips, and they will come away bloody. Open your mouth to breathe, and dust will coat your tongue.
When you see the ravens, dark and glistening in the cloudless sky, you will raise yourself to your knees and crawl in their wake. You will crawl over miles of fire and glittering rocks, crawl past the cliffs at the heart of the desert, and because they are kind, the ravens will fly lower in the sky.
A little farther, they will say, a little farther and you will find a vast oasis, where the water pools as clear as crystal and sweet as milk and honey, and the shade of the trees is green and cool. The earth there is as soft and moist as nestlings’ feathers, and the air is fresh as killing.
But you cannot move another inch.
You are weak with hunger, the ravens say. You are weak from the heat and the cold.
The ravens fly lower.
Be kind, Brothers, you beg. Please be kind.
They take your eyes first, and the hot moisture lingering in your mouth. Beneath the cracked and sandy skin, your flesh is tender, sweet as milk and honey. You are taken in the mouths of fledglings, carried on thin red feet to the nests in the heart of the desert.
Your heart, they bring to the oasis.
Such is the kindness of ravens.