…And Saul was afraid and his heart trembled greatly, and he said to his servants,
“Seek me a woman that divines by a ghost that I may go to her and inquire of her.”
And the servants said to him, “There is a woman that divines by a ghost at En-Dor…”

(Samuel I, 28, 7-8)

A fearsome time, a time of fire and fight,
of spears,
of blood,
of screaming bleeding men—
And the night! That night of black mist,
no stars,
and there he stood in my doorway, shrouded, dim,
tall, broken, a lightning-cracked tree—
He spoke just one command:
“Conjure woman,
conjure for me the certain spirit I seek.
No fear of the law—
A kingdom totters!”
A force—Oh yes, there was a force in him,
a damaged force—a scarred, broken force—
but a power still. I led him into my hut
and seated him, and started the Great Change.
Oh I am a different thing in the Great Change.
No longer an old stick with a creaking life.
Then, in my other voice, my spirit voice,
I sang: “Name the name!” He paused, then whispered:
                I tried to tear myself
out of my spirit state—
“You are Saul! The king!…”
“No fear!” He said.
                                 I sank and sank, and there
Samuel rose,
a strong, robed man,
with an ancient gaze, a gaze beyond time.
“Why do you summon me out of the light to suffer
again the torments of prophesy?”
                                               Saul bowed— 
his face to the ground—and wept:
                                              “The enemy sweeps
all away, a whirling wind, a flame.
No priest will divine for me, no prophet, no dream.
God is far, silent; the battle looms!”
Samuel’s voice was laden with long grief:
“You defied Heaven’s commands, turned away,
and now you call me, you who abandoned God?
For abandoning Heaven’s command you are abandoned.
The kingdom is torn out of your tremulous grasp.
Oh lost king! Oh king I taught to be king,
like a father—
up from the cattle pens to the crown—
Lost, lost!
And I am cursed to tell you:
Before tomorrow’s sun dies in the west
I will not come to you, but you and your sons
will come to me.”
                       Saul fell to the ground
as the dead fall.
Samuel cried, “Oh earth!.
Earth is the place of the prophet’s dark task
of slashing agape the nations’ rancid guts
to the full view of the wounded, wounding world.
Oh God—most terrible when You demand the truth!”
He faced me, gentler, as though relieved of a weight,
a black burden. And fading into the light,
“I must return.” He said, “See to the king,
that poor, frail thing cursed with a crown—
placed in my care like a son.
                                                 I failed, failed!
Failed when the people demanded a king. I warned,
but failed to turn them away from the royal allure,
so now the nation is plagued by a plague of kings
and will be plagued by kings and kings and kings,
and the nation is cursed, and the kings are cursed, through times,
through times and times…”
                                     But his voice dissolved away
and he passed into the fading, pure light,
freed at last from the torments of prophecy.

Paul Panish’s poetry has been published in literary journals, including Signal, The Formalist, War, Literature, and the Arts Journal, Poetica Magazine, The Raven’s Perch, Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine, and others, going back to the 1960s.