Friday, March 25, 2016

Holy Friday, a poem

In Harrowing of Hades, fresco in the parecclesion of the Chora ChurchIstanbul, c. 1315,
raising Adam and Eve is depicted as part of the Resurrection icon, as it always is in the East.

© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons

Holy Friday

After he gave up his spirit, the dogwood grieved
that it was strong and straight and heavy,
chopped down and crudely made to be
the tall cross he dragged up Golgotha Hill.
He blessed the tree that was only fulfilling the scriptures,
that had no will and yet could feel,
and shriveled and shrank crookedly in shame.
He blessed the tree and suddenly
            the dogwoods all over the Earth
            bloomed white or pink, luminous
in twilight, a little thornless crown at the center
and four fleshy petals for the points of the cross.

And a robin landed on one branch
to announce the spring,
and a mockingbird landed on another
to repeat the good news,
and an owl landed on another to wisely chant
                        a lament for the dead.

Then the ground trembled and opened,
            the archangels flew out of the immense
waning red Passover moon,
and flanked him as he descended into the underworld.
And the sage and thyme and rosemary
            growing close to the ground
            released their fragrance as they were trampled
            by him who would trample death,
who pushed aside the granite stone covering the tombs
            and took Eve and Adam by the hand
            and pulled them bodily from their graves.
The first mother and father shouted out to be risen,
            on their feet, held in each other’s arms,
touching heart to heart, and testing
the muscles in their fingers.

            The owl was heard solemnly chanting praise;
the mockingbird repeating the good news;
the robin announcing the spring.

Yet he would not be interrupted, the cattle and sheep,
winemakers and bakers, farmers and shepherds,
and the loyal dogs leaning against them,
the weavers and the barefoot children died too soon,
and women exhausted with birth
found themselves upright, standing witness
as all the souls were good
after their original nature.
Even the warrior kings and even the rich,
killers whose gold starved the rest,
he allowed into the cloud,
let them be poor and naked and sick,
let them hold a dogwood branch as a scepter.


--Aliki Barnstone, the poem originally appeared in Great River Review, and will appear in her forthcoming book, Dwelling, the Sheep Meadow Press, 2016.


NOTE: The poem refers to the Legend of the Dogwood and to the icons of the “Harrowing of Hell,” in which Jesus is depicted raising Adam and Eve from their tombs.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Gethsemane Psalm



Gethsemane Psalm

After they ate the Seder meal, whose order is very long,
they sang the closing psalm, and walked together
until they came to the grove.
Jesus prayed for them and still wanted to talk
to his students, his friends.
The rhododendrons closed their petals;
the blood red poppies in the fields beyond
had faded at twilight.
Jasmine, thyme, cedar, and chamomile scented
the dark air of Gethsemane.
The adolescent boys, who’d eaten and drunk a lot,
were exhausted with the hours, bearing
the history of the Jewish people,
and they slept beneath the canopy of olives.
The cyclamen stood sentry beside their black curls,
            like birds bowing their heads, balancing
            on one leg. “Stay awake with me
            and pray,” their Rabbi said.
Even loyal Peter, who blurted out his every thought,
was drooling on his pine needle pillow.
In sorrow until death, Jesus was human and afraid,
            wanted comfort and company to endure
            the torture Pilate ordered for the tens of thousands
            who dared rebel and love the poor.
“I am the way and the truth and the life,” he said,
yet he anguished: no praise for my deeds.
I’ll go to the trash heap of skulls,
like the other insurgents and thieves.
“Stay awake,” he whispered to their slumbering forms
            sleeping off their feast of flesh and blood,
            though he knew—as He knows all—that to wake
and see him fully human and fully God was more
than could be borne by these beloved children.


--Aliki Barnstone, forthcoming in her book of poems, Dwelling, the Sheep Meadow Press, 2016

Note: “Stay awake...” Matthew 25:15. “I am the way…” John 14:6.  Golgatha “means the place of the skull,” Matthew 27:33.