Brainerd Up the Tree


I hope the horse
Is ably hitched.
The pine-gum is
Strong and heady
In this stand of trees.
And I have only
The woolen saddle-blanket
To keep me dry
As the dew comes on.
Up this gnarled oak,
With its autumn brown
And orange all but gone.


The ride from the
Settlement at Five Birches
Was windy and cool,
But I was oblivious.
Caught in the memory
Of the noon-hour’s lesson.
With no less than
Fifteen natives gathered.
Captivated by the story
Of the Master blessing
And breaking and passing
The loaves and fishes.


Moses is getting
Very convincing
In the translation.
Seems they heard
The tone of my voice,
But followed more
Eagerly his cadence
And graceful hand-gestures.
Fifteen months ago it was,
He stumbled into
My meeting,
Drunk and disorderly.


Even debilitated
By the native brew,
He was quick to take pity upon
My then feeble efforts
With the language.
No genuine conviction
Of soul in him, then,
But a servant’s heart.
My travel-mate and guard.
Together we watched
Nursing does and young.


He excused himself
Early this afternoon,
Hearing of a sick cousin
To the south.
I will be alone
For the next eight days.
Six villages ahead.
God help me
To speak the Word,
Lovingly, earnestly.
My strangeness to them.
The village bustle, the hecklers.


I always marvel how news
Precedes my arrival.
Children and elderly
Usually first to sense
Our good intentions.
Curious, respectful,
Very patient with my
Use of language.
(Moses predicted as much.)
The drawing-slate helps.
David! The moon has
Broken through that cloud!


Below, the horse, still.
Slow breath steaming.
Fodder completely gone.
How does one sleep, standing?
Stiff, cramped and weak,
I probably could tonight.
But inside, thoughts
And memories quicken:
The college, the indiscretion,
The expulsion, the searching,
The still, small voice
Of my Lord.


And now here I am
Up a tree, contented;
With autumn branches
Like medieval window-panes
Against the night sky.
With faces and needs
To lift up from
That last village.
How they love to laugh.
Even in face of
Deprivation, winter, sickness.
Child-like candidates for Heaven.


Moses had made some joke.
(Probably at my expense.)
Gleefully they examined me.
Head to toe.
Perhaps the story of
The bee-hive;
Or the black bear
Up the tree before me…
My studies, my papers,
Preparation?
Given way to horse-back
Prayers and sermonettes.


God, you have said
That the heart must believe;
The tongue must confess,
That Jesus Christ is Lord.
So, I am here with
Message of a Man
From across the Big Water,
Harvesting hearts,
Honouring, hugging,
Hoping for their dawn.
Leaves rustle across pebbles
Like scurrying children.


Forgive me, Father,
No burden tonight
To watch and wait.
No throb in the chest.
No throat-lump.
No compulsion to plead.
Just an extraordinary
Sense of place,
Of purpose,
Of privilege.
To be in this wilderness,
Witness to a loving Saviour.


I pray this cough
Clears from the chest soon.
Job’s Book
The Thirty-Eighth,
Speaks of Your majestic
Authority over all
The creation… the skies,
The trees, changing weather,
The ravens which cry.
And I, oh Lord,
Am seen by You…now sleep.


David Brainerd, October 1745, New Jersey

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