Bethany Beyond the Jordan by Anna Montgomery

Bethany Beyond the Jordan,
Bethebara, Saphsaphas, Aenon
all names given to this
place of the willows

pilgrim’s route from Jerusalem,
crossing the Jordan, to Mt. Nebo
(West to East)
yet I’ve come from Mt. Nebo
Dead Sea to source
(East to West)

they say Jesus was baptized
by John upon this ground
garden of God, Jesus’ refuge
where sainted Mary Aegyptica
found true peace

we’ve come through
the religious market,
past Greek Orthodox
church-owned land
to a baptismal font
at the riverbank
tourists investigating
this narrow border

across the Jordan rabbis
perform rituals
clothed in elaborate robes
chant in Hebrew

beneath Israel’s flag
and the watchful eyes
of border guards
armed with automatic weapons

in the distance a Jeep
with a mounted
50 caliber machine gun idles
while the Jordanian
guard at my elbow
grips his kalashnikov

here the river
to the Dead Sea
one without life or outlet
looking across to Jerusalem
I have never
been one to take sides

preferring the freedom
to question
now my burning curiosity:
what are the holy men doing?

I cannot cross to ask
without deadly consequences
though perhaps if I,
like St. Mary the Egyptian,
walk on water . . .

Written for Brian Miller’s prompt on people watching for the Poetics prompt at dVerse Poets Pub: