Balak, the king of Moab, is none too pleased when the wandering Israelites camp on the steppes of his kingdom. He sends the prophet Balaam to curse them. But on Balaam’s way to deliver these imprecations, his donkey keeps balking because, unlike his human rider, the donkey catches sight of “the angel of the Lord standing in the way” (Numbers 22:23). Finally, God allows the donkey to speak—the only instance of an animal talking in the Hebrew Bible. When Balaam finally listens, he, too, is able to see and hear the divine messenger. When he reaches the Israelite encampment, instead of cursing, he marvels, “How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!” (24:5)
We’re old friends, my friend’s dog and I,
from years of walking, or in her case, darting
after squirrels, deciphering a message
in the stink of marked bushes, lapping at a ditch
after the morning sprinklers have done their work.
Sometimes the leash goes slack; bred to herd
and anxious that I lag, she drops back
harrying me till I rejoin the flock.
When I let her lead, the sights and scents
of the world beneath my feet reveal themselves:
Behind the hedge, a tomcat raises his hackles;
the smell of newly planted salvia
competes with the pleasing odor of roast meat.
Perhaps an angel stands in my way, ready
to show me how the world is full of blessings.