THE PASSOVER FILES – A poem sequence for Easter Week
Versions of some of these poems have been published in the magazines Seam and Smiths Knoll and also in the anthology Take Five (Shoestring Press, 2003) and the collection Tradesman’s Exit (Shoestring Press, 2009). This is the first time that all the poems in the sequence have appeared together.
A printable version of the sequence can be found at LG PASSOVER FILES
Header images are by David Walsh
THE PASSOVER FILES
Lazarus, a follower of the accused He made me laugh when he told me how he’d put me in a story as a beggar. He killed me off while making sure I had a happy ending, but wasn’t there when the buzzard sickness fell and its talons tore at me. I heard the whispers that he wouldn’t come although he could. An opened cave cupped the pool of light I woke in, salt-sea floating, horizontal, half outside a body scrambling to its bandaged feet. I was the breath entering my empty golem in the valley of dry bones. If clay obeys a maker’s voice, could stones sing in reply? As for the rest, they all feared they’d get unclean by touching me. Someone’s remark about a smell was hanging sourly on the heavy air. He said they must take away the tourniquets that bound up my mortality. My senses sparkled as stagnant blood began to sing again. Two of the accused’s accomplices Just as he told us, we untied the colt. She came quietly astonished like her owners by the confidence with which we claimed her. Unresisting, she let herself be ridden as she recognized her real master. And on that day, when for a little time and space his own received him, we heard him say that even stones might sing his praise and we believed him. Caiaphas, High Priest We are not opposed to change: why else would we study? We must ever thread the maze of truth more thoroughly and so slowly modify its map. He however always went too fast, outraging customs, overturning, and devaluing tradition. Before you act you must calculate the outcome of your actions; before you speak weigh the meaning of your words. A Widow at the Temple If I’d been told before, I’d not have gone that day. To be spoken of in front of everyone! However did he know me and my two coins among so many? Yet he was gracious, and his love saw love within my poverty Mary of Magdala I knew they disapproved, those men: I felt their cold eyes cold upon my back as warm fragrance broke from its confinement. And, though my heart was all for him, even in myself another voice suggested that this gesture went too far. Yet he was gracious, and his love saw love in my extravagance. Simon Peter, ex-fisherman and close associate of the accused After such a week I was brim-full of boldness. You shan’t wash me, Lord, I said. I need to, he replied. But even then I hardly listened. I said: I’ll follow you to death, Lord, and later couldn’t keep awake. In that garden overgrown with weariness and fear did I draw a sword? The fire in the courtyard made ashes of my confidence as the proud cockerel crowed. Judas Iscariot, informer Is there sometimes no way back? Is the awful truth that some guilt must remain for those who are a fatal day, or hour, too late discovering the colour of self-will? The banners rose so fine and red behind my eyes; and matters, I convinced myself, were black and white. The march they started in my soul has step by step led nowhere but this end. A bitter end and one pursued with grim determination now forever begs impossibly to be undone. How could I ever hope to look him in the eyes again? Pontius Pilate, Roman Governor I did my best at first. I liked the man a little more than I could care about the frantic accusations gathering around him. Left alone, he posed no threat that I could see. So unworldly, he’d not lift a hand to help himself. Yet this one fault (for I found no other) was in the end enough. In short I could not help but sacrifice the man for the sake of peace. The Governor’s wife is questioned about a dream Don’t make me see it all again: the desolation, darkness, emptiness and menace; the wailing cries of frightened children in the mouths of grown-up men. It lay behind a kind of sackcloth curtain, wetly draped behind the shoulder of the prisoner. Unless I stopped him, my husband was about to give a verdict and a sentence; and I knew, unless I stopped him sending down the prisoner, the slimy veil and what it held in check would overwhelm us all. And even that was not the worst of it. Barabbas, ex-convict Only afterwards I heard how hatred of the other prisoner made my deeds excusable and my release increase his punishment. To my surprise, I was briefly grateful for his timely interference (though of course he’d had no choice and it was too late anyway to thank him). I didn't know my unexpected rescuer was soon to make his own escape, or that countless others like me would one day say they owed their lives to him. The accomplice John at Golgotha Constant taunts, as negative as gravity, surely pulled away his strength. Was his loneliness the worse for knowing an angel could still unpin him from the pain? He was dragging earth and heaven back together with bare hands while being scorned and blamed for failing to be what they thought he meant by what they’d heard him say. The accomplice Philip recalls his former teacher From the first he spoke of growing things. He teased Nathanael beneath the fig tree; and afterwards his teaching seemed all planting promising a harvest. Parables were yeast to swell the bread he fed the crowds. Strangely, they were foreigners who drew from him at last the truth that we were less inclined to hear. We'd fixed our eyes on fruit, forgetting new growth shows where burials have been. Denying this, we fall in any case, like fruit abandoned lasting past its best to bruise and break in singular decay. Our birth’s a door to solitude unless we ripen to acceptance of the scythe. Joseph of Arimathea, Council member with a special interest in the accused How to put this so you’ll understand? Death did not diminish him – did not uproot one truth he planted nor disturb the hope he shaped. It was simply, having heard enough, the world had turned away again – too good for them, we might have said if he hadn’t warned us not to. Even so it seemed the only things to do were organise a proper burial and somehow keep his memory alive. The mother of the accused We lost him once before when we let him slip away leaving us with hearts alarmed and racing to recover him from all wrong places. The next time, we were watching. We saw the way he went – the boldest of his friends unable to prevent it – and we’d no doubt we knew where he had gone forever. We were not searching when the third day dawned on us and revealed that he was back inside the temple where he told us we should expect to find him. Joseph of Arimathea (supplementary statement) Thank God it wasn’t up to us to keep it going somehow doing justice to the words he left; to celebrate his life by maintaining him a grave; to speak enough of him for others and ourselves to be persuaded our hearts had really burned. He accepted, briefly, what we’d done then broke our last best effort like a shell whose emptiness was now its whole importance. Cleopas, husband of one of the accused’s women followers How could anyone not know those things which tore our hearts? Haltingly we told him. The last thing that we wanted was to talk about the scriptures when our faith was all awry. Yet his words thawed our inattention. We asked him to break bread with us (would he have done so otherwise?) And as with little appetite we waited for the food he had to offer then and only then we truly saw. Our eyes still wet with wonder, out of breath, we told the others: It’s all right – He’s alive! The accomplice Thomas aka ‘the doubter’ I’d not collude with anyone’s delusions. I always called a spade its proper name and could grasp its purpose well enough when something needed burying. Wasn’t I the first who pointed out how we could die with him? And in broad daylight that was, well ahead of Simon acting all dramatic at the dinner table. He’s dead, I said, so don’t you let him down by making myths of what you want to hope about a man who always told the truths he saw, however hard they were. Someone had to dig them out. I thought that I could get the very leverage I’d need by resting on a point of substance and blunt impossibility. But when I set my hand to it then something yielded to my touch and all the firmness of my former grip was lost: and, yes, I do remember how it felt.