Pilgrim Poems (Lent Poems 28 and 29)

Two more poems from earlier in the sequence, both dealing with the pilgrims approaching Jerusalem for the Passover. The second poem, “Even His Own Brothers”, goes back to early in Jesus’ ministry, when his unbelieving brothers try to convince Jesus to go to Jerusalem in order to make a big impression.

I rejoiced when they said unto me:
Let us go, let us leave
For the house of the Lord. Let us now go.
There we will go, bringing our peace.
There we all go. We meet there in peace.
There the tribes go, joyful and praising,
To the city, the temple, the king’s city, where
His throne stands. The city stands
Compacted together. There
We will all meet,
Before the king’s throne,
In his city, this city of peace.
Jerusalem, we’re near you; will you receive
Us as your guests? Will
You receive us in peace?
Jerusalem, we are now here:
Our feet are standing
In your uneasy gates –
Even His Own Brothers
(John 7:3-5)
Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
He shook off the taunts of the well-intentioned:
The right time for me has not yet come.
Had he not said the same to his mother
A few months ago, when the wine had run dry
And the master of the wedding had asked
For assistance? Had he then, any more than now,
Been concerned with social niceties or
The demands of public life? Had he courted
Then, or now, the limelight?
Yet that day the best wine had flowed:
Wine to gladden the heart. Though
Evading the piercing glances of
A public who demanded to know each step he took,
Whose clothes he wore and which brands he would support
When he overthrew Rome, or those who poked him
With sticks and said, Show us a miracle, Christ,
He would not neglect the work he came to do:
The bringing of new wine, the birth of a new kingdom,
In, and yet not of, this world that he trod.
For you any time is right,
Said the brother whom they did not understand,
The eldest, the crazed one, the public magician who
Refused to turn up to his most glamorous gigs.
The world cannot hate you,
but it hates me because…
By now they had tuned out. They played a flute for him
Yet he would not dance, a dirge but he would not mourn.
There was no pleasing this one.
Back to their homes they went,
To the regularity of wood shaped with chisel and plane,
While in Judea he hid himself until just the right time
To shake up the self-congratulating party with
The harsh, dissident cymbal of the truth.

The Day Before Sunday (Lent Poems 27)

Not yet back to our homes,
Not yet back to our nets,
Not yet back from the death of the day before,
We waited and rested.
Not yet grieving,
Not yet sorry,
Not yet alive to the death and the night of it all,
We rested and sat
Somewhere amid waiting and wanting.
Not yet found in his net,
Not yet caught or freed,
Not yet free in the water,
Not yet alive in the breeze,
Not yet waiting or wanting,
Amid the waiting and resting and the night of the death before
We sat
And by us all the Sabbath floated
In a curl of rest beyond us
And in the breeze of the water around us
We waited amid the rest of our wanting
And sat, not yet resting.

The Dazzling Whiteness (Lent Poems 26)

This poem belongs earlier in the collection. It is a flashback to Peter, James and John’s climb to the top of the mountain, where they saw Jesus transfigured, in glory, standing with Moses and Elijah. I wonder if Peter would have thought to this back moment somewhere after Jesus’ arrest; I wonder how the memory would have seen to him then, not yet really understanding who Jesus was or what he was doing. Would it have seemed a taunting reminder of what could have been but seemed to have failed?

The Dazzling Whiteness
The others had stayed below while we climbed,
John with a steady assurance and James
Somewhere not too far behind, the Lord at the front
Setting the pace and me, frustrated, eyes on the summit
And the space between me and the peak somehow taunting.
At the top, short of breath, where the ground seemed to catch
My eye more than the sky did, I saw a glimmer of light
From above, and looking up to the source, there I found
The Lord, all ablaze, his face like the sun and his clothes:
They were whiter than all the world’s bleach
Could hope ever to make them, and there by his side
Two faces of age and dignity, men like two trees
Of great wisdom and strength; their faces somehow
Like two faces I knew. They talked with Lord, there
Up on the mountain, and spoke there such words
Of knowledge I knew they were both surely prophets of old,
The two greatest yet. And, the Lord like the brightest
Star of the heavens, Moses, Elijah standing beside him,
There where our radiant God shone so loud,
And the wonder and glory of us all being there,
It seemed like the time and the place to all stop
And make, as at Sinai, tents for our meeting there.
Yet the sound of my voice, my eager suggestion,
Bounced off the sky and landed amid
The vacuum of sound in the wind all around us
While a voice from the clouds captured and drowned us:
This is my Son, whom I love. Listen well to Him.
What a sound! And the glory of God filled our souls.
Then, gone the voice and the men who’d stood with us; gone,
And the sound of the mountain resounded in silence.
The Lord motioned down the mountain to walk,
And so walk down we did, the solemnity of
The moment and then the Lord’s order to
Speak not of this moment, until he would rise
Up from the dead, consumed all our minds,
As each step we took downwards was a fight with the rocks
And the pain of the silence and loss of that glory,
And, climbing, we wondered and wondered and argued
What it might mean to rise from the dead.

The Day of Preparation (Lent Poems 25)

It is finished and the night looms.
The darkness hangs as a cloak above,
Tremulous but not quite dropping,
And together, under cover of light, we take
His still limp bundle of bones (all of them we can see
Through the veil of his skin) and take it down
To the garden where the empty tomb waits:
The best we both yet have to give.
Our peers walk swiftly from the scene,
Ready for a rest so dearly bought, to wash
Their hands and sit inside their houses closed
From his words of shaking mercy:
Father, Forgive them. We knew not then
What we did, when we stood amongst the crowd.
Now we leave them. Now we take our lifeless lord,
A moment, maybe, just too late,
Yet still the best that we can give.
Is it finished? The night looms;
The darkness hangs as a cloak above,
Tremulous, yes, but not quite dropping.
And together, under cover of light,
We take his still limp bundle of bones,
And give the best we have to give:
A garden where his body may wait.

Dismissal (Lent Poems 24)

It is finished.
Return to your strongholds, prisoners;
Wait there for your deliverer.
Return to your fortress; raise the ramparts;
Take your positions, curled up in the corner,
Drawbridge raised, not to be lowered any
Time soon. Let the moat surround you; let
Your friends and allies hide deep in their pit
Dug far, far below the troubles of the ground.
There wait: wait in terror, wait in fear,
In thwarted belief, imprisoned
By hope, deferred, now put outside
The drawbridge, with the rubbish and
The taunts of the sunrise. Return
To your strongholds. Hold on
To the skin of your teeth. Hide
And hold strong. There’s
Nothing more to see.

The Words of My Groaning (Lent Poems 23)

My God my God why
Have you forsaken me my God I
Cry out loud by day by night, I
Cry to you on high while words my
Words grow weak with groaning, cry
Not ceasing and no answer, cry by
Night; I am not silent; I am loud. Why,
My God, why are you silent?
Scorned am I; a worm, no man; I
Shrink to bone; they shake and laugh while
Drawing lots and casting die
Lions tear, the lions tear and open wide
Their blooddripping mouths, and dogs
Surround me, evil dogs; a band
Of man-dogs encircles me;
Down I stare, avert my eye.
Naked I can count all my
Bones like nails; the dogs they bark
And growl around me; feet and hands,
They have all pierced my
Feet and hands while loud they cry
Into the hatred and the blight:
Crucify, crucify.

The Rooster Crows (Lent Poems 22)

Another one that belongs slightly earlier in the collection, while I play catch-up with myself. This one should go, as the name probably makes quite clear, at the time when Peter is waiting outside the High Priest’s house.

The Rooster Crows
And the sheep are scattered.
They have all run away.
The wolves have come and
The shepherd stands ready
To battle them, but the sheep,
The sheep are afraid.
There are no sheep now
In the pen; they run
For their lives from the wolves.
They have seen the blood drip from
The wolves’ sharpened teeth.
The shepherd rises, with
His burning heart in hand
To do battle with the wolves and
Their virulent hate. He stands
To defend and defeat. But the sheep:
The sheep have all gone.
You, sheep, have all gone.
All will turn away. All will abandon.
The wolves, thick with the evil of
Their dark intentions, loom.
The shepherd stands alone.

The Harvest (Lent Poems 20 and 21)

The Barren Fields
And in the autumn of the afternoon,
He waits, he waits,
And watches for
The cattle yet to grace the hills,
The birds not seen yet in the skies,
The fig-tree failing yet to bud…
In distant skies are storks who know
The seasons they must follow, who
Obey the times appointed in their lives,
And doves, swifts, thrushes who all know
To move and sway with seasons’ changes,
Yet now the seasons change and halt
All of their own petulant accord.
The ground declares it should be soft,
The plants complain they are not growing,
Land which will not drink of rain decries
Its own sad, barren state…
In the fields he waits while all
Around him are the stumps of growth
Aborted and the fallow fields
Of careless inattention and
The hard, infertile land of dull
Hearts and deaf, enclosed ears.
Lift Your Eyes
Look: the harvest…
It looms, in minute kernels
Locked away in desert lands,
In hints of teardrops somewhere in clouds
Still too shy to show themselves…
Listen: the people…
The people cry:
The harvest is gone and still
We’re not saved.
The summer is passed.
Where are we now?
Somewhere you are,
In limbo’s dull season,
In valleys of bones and slaughter where
One day will the bridegroom come
Amid the songs of the joyful who
Await the feast that will then burst
From barren grounds and desert lands
And fountains which will break forth from
Clouds too shy now to show themselves.
There will then be feasting.
There will then be rain.

Noise in the City (Lent Poems 19)

Another flashback: the new king arrives on his mule. But this is from the Old Testament and is a foreshadowing of the true king. This is Solomon who arrives, like his descendant would do centuries later, triumphantly but humbly to receive his kingdom.

Noise in the City
(1 Kings 1:32-53)
The king-to-be comes
On the back of a mule,
His father’s mule,
And the people sing
And sound their flutes to say,
The new king is come!
Long live the King!
But hark: amidst the noise
Of the people and their flutes
In the city, the false priests and
The army cringe, mutter: What
Is that noise in the city? What
Is it’s meaning, all of this noise?
The news – a new king, the son
Of the King, the new King is come
Meets with their anger. Surely not
Now! This cannot be true. And so
They cling to the horns of the altar
In dread and fear, cling and cringe
While in the city, the noise resounds.
Lo, the new king is come,
On the back of a mule.
On his father’s mule,
the son of the King comes.

Late Winter: The Fig-Tree (Lent Poems 18)

This poem should probably belong earlier in the Lent sequence, but I hadn’t decided until recently where to place it. It best belongs, chronologically, between Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem and the Passover meal. Here it is now:

Late Winter: The Fig-Tree
The leaves were there.
They promised something –
Early fruit perhaps, the first sign
Of winter dying.
The Temple stood,
Before us, and behind us sang
The lingering, joyful echoes
Of crowds cheering.
The Lord approached
The fig-tree, hoping now
To find some sign, amidst the throng,
Of fruit appearing.
But though its leaves
Were full and lush, it
Bore no fruit. It was not the time
For figs growing.
Yet the Lord, angered,
Cursed the tree then
For all its false signs and overtures
Of fruit-bearing.
And into the Temple
He walked, whip in hand lest
He find there no signs either
Of fruit growing.