THE PASSOVER FILES – A poem sequence for Easter Week

postponed 1.4D_Walsh_17

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



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.
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. 


Michael Bartholomew-Biggs