God Unties Moses’ Tongue – Angela Saulsbery

“Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” And the Lord said to him, “Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with you as you speak […]”

—Exodus 4:10-12


I came out to the wilderness to guide the sheep.
I did not look for trouble. The flow of years washed
The blood from my hands, and I no longer see red.
Here I see the mountains and a promising land
Here there are soporific smells of brown dirt and
Drooping poppy tucked into a cleft of rock.
Here I will lie down for a while, count the sheep.
A wind from God sweeps over the grass.


If I was not looking for trouble, I should not have looked at all
When I saw light flicker on the mountain.
Liquid light, violet light, let there be light
It might have been a trick of the sun
But it was a wakeup call.
The light came from a bush
Making life from the desert.
Fire was in the bush.
God was in the bush.
He spoke to me.
I should have stayed with the sheep.


“I will send you to Egypt to free my people
from Pharaoh.” I am
Quite the trickster. God thinks
I am the leader of the Israelites,
The Israelites think that I am an Egyptian, and
The Egyptians know that I am
Twice a fugitive.
Brother Pharaoh and I played pranks on the palace servants.
“Shut your mouth,” Ramses said,
“and they’ll never catch you.”
By the time I was grown, I knew how to get by.
I was so quiet that the Egyptian taskmaster didn’t hear me
coming. As he beat my kinsman, anger fell
Like a ton of straw
Or a wave from the river
Or the jaws of a thousand crocodiles, and I
Picked up a brick and killed him.
His blood sealed my lips for good.
Who but the next victim will listen to a murderer?


I have more questions:
Who am I to speak, to negotiate with my brother who is not my brother?
Who am I to speak, to instruct my not-brother who is my brother?
Who am I, to resist the will of the river that delivered me into the hands of royalty?
I cannot speak with my mouth full of food,
Eaten off the backs of my people.
I cannot speak without toppling the tower I stand on.


God’s call is a show for an Israelite audience.
I’m the trick, the burning bush, proof that all things are possible
with God—I’m the paradoxical prophet
The mealy-mouthed mouthpiece
The wealthy man coming down to earth and
Communing with the heavens.
Ramses will never see me coming,
Aaron will see me coming from a hundred miles away.
Even now he is setting out to meet me.


My other brother, the strong one, confident
Can speak for me, for I cannot overcome the tradition of silence.1
The Egyptians give him straw he spins to gold
Chains of words to wrap around their throats.
My story hangs in tatters around me, Aaron’s is whole.
He draws battle lines; I have only hopelessly tangled allegiances
And tangled words that split and pile in my mind.
If I have any say in this matter—choose another speaker.


God sighs and sloshes water over the burning bush.
He steps from behind a curtain of leaves, speaks
And says, “I will be with you, and
Aaron will speak for you
Because, having once profited off the backs of your people,
You will never fully join them.
You will live at the edge of their camp with Me for company.
To Pharaoh, you will speak your native language,
Which is violence.
Did I not make you just for this?
Aaron will speak, but you will be
Heard. The future will find your name
In Egypt’s history books. With this rod,
You will perform signs.
With this staff, you will smite Pharaoh,
And the world will know that I am the Lord.”

1. “[…] I cannot overcome the tradition of silence,” is a play on, “I will overcome the tradition of silence,” from Gloria Anzaldua’s essay, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” (in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza).

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