|After the Crucifixion
A jagged sky, late evening on Golgotha. Up the slope, three spikes jab the heavens. Here, where Christ lives no longer, six ladies gesture in quiet conversation. Desolation broods upon the hill like the aftermath of a wedding party. A rich man, Joseph of Arimathaea, ascends with a servant pulling a cart. The women draw together, as if afraid. Far off comes a strain of music, like blood through wire. Then, silence.
THE DEAD CHRIST
JOSEPH OF ARIMATHAEA
MARY ((((( mother of James
SARAD ((((( servant to Joseph
Which is the man? (( JOSEPH
At the center, as usual. (( MAGDALENE
For now he is a corpse,
Albeit handsome, handsome at that.
The last we heard his voice he screamed on fire.
'Tis quiet now.
And yet I hear my ache.
I HEARD desire.
Well, hear me. I've come (( JOSEPH
To bury him.
(producing a scroll)
An honor. (( MARY
From Pilate himself?
I cannot read.
No matter. (( JOSEPH
We'll pull him down and stretch him on this cart.
By morning daws would suck his eyes.
And cease those cries.
By some accounts he's half way toward
Prove it by me, I'd have to see.
Let others trace the lost connection.
Let Peter who has fled
This lately dead.
What's up will down?
Or down will up—I'll let you find the right
The twilight fades to black, a pulsing of light, then again black, then twilight, as they lift the body to the cart. All on the hill struggle with the stiffening weight, as if it is enormous. They sit and collect themselves.
How was the end?
Fearful. (( A WOMAN
A pity. Terrible. A pity. (( ANOTHER
From the sixth hour, there was (( MAGDALENE
Black. And then, on the ninth, he asked his God . . .
What was it, old mother?
"Hast thou forsaken me?" (( MARY
Someone gave him vinegar. (( MAGDALENE
He cried out and died.
The ground trembled. ALL of us, even the centurion,
The earth was shook by some great quake,
Enough to thrust the dead to life,
And all that they DENIED—we've heard the TEMPLE split,
It's veil, whatever,
And that's not half of it.
Well we'll have him now. He'll rest (( SARAD
(they gather up; the two women press against the cart,
which the two men pull into gathering black)
Dead night before an open cave. Joseph is a pale haze from the flicker of torchlight within, where Sarad prepares the body.
How goes it in there? (( JOSEPH
He's washed from head to foot. (( SARAD
(from within the cave)
And HOW is he? (( JOSEPH
Cold. Cold and very dead. (( SARAD
Scented in time to meet his bride.
I hope she finds him warmer.
But is he like the others? (( JOSEPH
Like any dead man.
This is not my usual chore, (( SARAD
And yet I'd hazard he's usual,
The usual corpse.
I'll have him look his best, sire,
For the banquet.
Terrible when the man himself's the feast.
Is he diseased? Was the man sick? (( JOSEPH
I'd say he died of it. Quite plain. (( SARAD
Here now, I oil his hair. There's a lot of that
And nearly golden,
Though I venture black will do as well
To suit the guests.
'Tis grim, this business. (( JOSEPH
I never saw him living.
Was my station in life to refrain and he a danger.
Stranger then it seems
That I, a stranger, bury him.
I hope he's of the type to be forgiving.
(Sarad exits the cave, drying his hands)
Word was he could ask for fire (( SARAD
Most fierce, call curses on your head,
And all in the same breath
Raise from death
Or stroke the leper from his scabs.
'Tis a mystery.
But plain he's resting. I've wrapped him in good linen.
Well then off (( JOSEPH
And get your sleep.
The six I hired will come soon for the rock.
We'll seal him up.
I doubt he'll stir.
And pray tonight. I pray there'll be an answer.
Good night, master. Good night. (( SARAD
Exits into near black. Joseph sits, hands folded, in the waning flicker from within. After some minutes pass, he hears the six men coming. They file in, rudely dressed and mannered. He talks to their leader.
I had asked you for a service. (( JOSEPH
The terms are somewhat different
But the payment fitting.
(hands them a bag of silver)
There's more of this each month that greets
And what's the terms? (( THE LEADER
Take the body to the wild.
Divide it into three and bury each part separate,
Two men for each, unknowing to the rest.
And roll the stone in place
And never tell the world the tomb was empty.
I'll compensate this secret every month
You still shall live. Agreed?
(they all nod assent)
I've heard you can be trusted. (( THE LEADER
Here's the deed. Men?
(five enter and carry out the body, stiff and wrapped like
And your silence? (( JOSEPH
Silence is money. (( THE LEADER
You know where I am. (( JOSEPH
Come back in thirty days.
(they extinguish the light and close the cave)
Adieu. (( THE LEADER
(the six file out with the body into total black)
So dark I cannot see my hand. (( JOSEPH
We'll see what tempts them on the morrow.
By three months turning,
No one will believe them but the Romans.
Certainly not the zealots.
And yet I am caught in fear.
Or caught in faith?
I have touched its corpse.
They'll come to view his body
And will find it gone.
We'll see what horror blossoms in the morning.
(uttered in a sea of black)
A brilliant spring day, the first Easter Sunday, before the open cave where a young girl kneels, drawing patterns in the dust. Joseph enters to absolute quiet.
A WITNESS ((((( the young girl
Who moved the stone? (( JOSEPH
Who speaks? (( THE WITNESS
Come, trace your name here in this sand,
I'll show you I can read.
But blind you are. (( JOSEPH
(enters the cave)
Who moved the stone? And . . .
The Christ? He's risen. (( THE WITNESS
Fancy that. (( JOSEPH
It's gone that far.
You say your Savior's risen?
I met them on the road. Magdalene, (( THE WITNESS
Mary, the mother of James.
And another. I can't recall her name.
That's all? (( JOSEPH
Yes. Three. Just three. (( THE WITNESS
As God is my witness.
They told me.
They were here. Brought spices to anoint the Christ.
Would that they'd move the stone
And much afraid.
An angel of God sufficed.
Sufficed? Angel? (( JOSEPH
Young man in a white robe, (( THE WITNESS
Seated, they all agreed, upon the side,
And he, "No need for alarm. You are seeking
Jesus, he is risen,
The man that was crucified,
The son of man that Peter himself denied,
You'll find him in Galilee."
And they ran, afraid,
And I was on the way, and they told me.
I'd hoped to meet the Master
Here myself, that I could finally see.
And how were they? The three? (( JOSEPH
Much wonder in their voices. (( THE WITNESS
That you believed them? (( JOSEPH
As much as you stand there (( THE WITNESS
In front of me.
Here now I trace it with my fingers.
Would trace the Christ himself . . . in time . . .
And what if I were to tell you (( JOSEPH
That some lout
Removed the rock.
And raped the body and cut it into parts.
And buried it north of Gideon.
That your three ladies were infected with their menses,
Not a saint, or maddened by remorse,
That such is the wayward course of your risen friend . . . ah
You'd doubt me to the end.
And pray that I might vanquish my affliction.
Now trace again.
I'm off to look for patterns in the sand.
(disappears into blinding light)
Joseph overtakes on the road a very old man gripping a stick.
A WITNESS ((((( the old man
Hold up there, old fellow. (( JOSEPH
Maybe you can help me.
Can scarcely help myself. (( THE WITNESS
I best be getting home.
Maybe you saw three women. (( JOSEPH
Saw one. (( THE WITNESS
Saw one that wept for seeing.
Seeing? You? (( JOSEPH
Well yes. Partly. (( THE WITNESS
But what she'd truly seen.
As for truly . . . well she said it forceful.
And said that for her whole hard life
She tended on remorseful . . . and even till the seeing.
Grieving? And now? (( JOSEPH
Not in the way of tears or pain. (( THE WITNESS
She said a man had passed this way again.
I'm long along, sir, mind me well.
She said a dead man stopped her by a well.
And offered drink that no man'd find
She said he was her husband, she his daughter.
She said they'd never touched,
And yet she bore his child.
She swore the latter.
Strange as to say, it seemed to make her sadder.
But then she smiled as if the sun
Had formed her smile,
And said her Savior gave her drink,
A man that's lately dead—
You've heard about his trial and crucifixion.
Jesus the Christ,
Stranger fact than fiction.
Dead but risen—the lass depicts him.
And tells me solemn as the dust
That clung to that man's feet
Some things I'd hardly dare repeat,
Or man might find me mad
Or in my dotage—
Not that the latter isn't coming on.
She's off to Galilee and to his flock.
An angel of God removed a rock!
And yet I'm nearly one to take her word, and that
Just you and me.
I never heard a lady speak so strong as her. As she?
She met the Christ? (( JOSEPH
Sitting by a well and drawing patterns (( THE WITNESS
In the sand.
"Even the dust will understand."
He said that? The dead man? (( JOSEPH
The kind of thing a dead might say. (( THE WITNESS
If given speech?
I've got this stick in case he comes my way.
He comes your way you'll be the (( JOSEPH
This God of hers she conjured
By a well?
Even a dead man knows their thirst.
(exits into brilliant light)
Everyone here in such a hurry. (( THE WITNESS
Damned if they've made me nearly worry.
Twenty leagues and then I'll rest.
My luck I'll meet the Christ,
He'll have it off his chest.
(exits into radiance)
Joseph is hailed by a leper in an advanced state of decay, sitting beside the road.
A WITNESS ((((( the leper
Come here, good sire, have pity. (( THE WITNESS
Are you the Christ?
I am a man in search of him. (( JOSEPH
I am in search. Of a void.
And yet close by as word would (( THE WITNESS
Have it. They say they spied him by a brook.
Said? (( JOSEPH
Two gentlemen that passed me by (( THE WITNESS
In hot pursuit of more than just a shadow.
They filled my cup with silver,
Even thanked me for the chance,
And then commenced to dance about like devils
On the brink,
But filled with joy and light
About a man that's risen.
And said they're chosen.
And said that God will come.
They drew a fish here in the dust and laughed
And wailed most mad
And spoke in tongues and said they feared no serpent.
The youngest offered to kiss my sores
And then pulled back.
I guess I was a parcel more than all his faith.
And that close to it?
Large faith indeed that nearly brought him to it.
You say you're not the Christ?
Simply a man that pulled (( JOSEPH
In a cart.
And where'd you leave it? (( THE WITNESS
In hunks for worms to suck (( JOSEPH
Like your own flesh.
But dead. Most dead and rotting.
He cannot lead himself.
And you? What can YOU do? (( THE WITNESS
Deposit a dracma in your bowl, (( JOSEPH
But hold my breath against the stink.
Garner your kisses from a Christian's lips,
They'd kiss the whore of hell.
And fondle her disease.
And lift up every rock for what it hides of faith,
And draw their pictures in the sand.
And yield to their Lord's demand
That even innocents be blessed
By his rude MEMORY,
Cursed by their very birth, in need of tracking.
Leper, 'tis not you that's lacking,
'Tis their Lord.
And tell your heirs, the insects, when they're bored
That Jesus nearly kissed you into health.
Were I that fiction I'd have passed you by in stealth some
Sudden clarity of mind.
I hope I've been direct and not unkind.
(deposits a coin and vanishes into light)
That man has found a leper (( THE WITNESS
In his soul.
I'll dine at their Master's side before HE'S whole.
Beauty is inward, racked with pain.
The beast that traps it is the mortal brain.
Ah yes, I'm sick.
And sit here waiting for a dead man's trick.
(is bathed in a clear white light)
Late afternoon before a low clay house, a guard stands with a spear. Joseph approaches, unsteady, fatigued.
A WITNESS ((((( the guard
Halt there and state your business. (( THE WITNESS
I am Joseph of Arimathaea. (( JOSEPH
Is this the house of the disciples?
Your name I didn't catch. (( THE WITNESS
I kiss the spouse of trifles?
Kiss this stout spear, man, and can use it.
My God! (( JOSEPH
Deaf as a stone and would tell me of the Christ.
I'm Joseph. I buried . . .
DIS . . . CI . . . ples!
Is this their HOUSE?
You needn't yell. I hear well enough. (( THE WITNESS
The lot are just inside and fairly well asleep.
It's company you'd keep?
You'd find them rough.
Their Jesus. THEIR JESUS. (( JOSEPH
I heard he has appeared.
'Tis rumored thus. They hired me (( THE WITNESS
Just this hour.
Set to be circumcised upon the morrow and a proper Jew.
Speaking in tongues before I'm through.
The money's good
If the company lacks in proper refinement.
This world's a prison.
Far as you see's the sky.
At night the stars.
At times it's black.
You're born to lose and losing's our confinement.
A philosopher. (( JOSEPH
THIS RUMOR then. WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD
Their Savior said,
And WHAT WAS DONE?
WHAT PASSED WITHIN THOSE WALLS?
'Tis all one.
Again, 'tis rumor. Rumor of (( THE WITNESS
A rumor, and that again and over . . . hints
Of a speculation.
'Tis rumored that in anger, Jesus vented
That no one believed the ladies or the gents.
That no one cared, for all intents.
That henceforth to the wild they all would trek,
All zealots, all,
A rope around their neck, healing the lame, the sick,
The poor-in-hearts, the weak.
He raised his fist and had them meek.
Peter, the rock of his sad church,
Had left them momentarily in the lurch, but shouted—
'Tis rumored—louder than the rest.
The gift of tongues, they'd have. The adder's bite,
Itself at best a test
Of their contrition.
If fault 'tis left 'tis their ambition.
They sleep it off for now but wait and see.
Rumored Christ fled them up to heaven.
The story? Different from each of the Eleven.
A crusty cake and free of leaven.
Marry the world to jobs like this.
One of their lot—'tis said—betrayed him with a kiss.
But that was Friday?
Sometime just last week.
I've said enough. 'Tis time you speak.
ADIEU. THAT'S WORD (( JOSEPH
(he exits, trailed by light, turns)
What will it take THESE RUMORS to be fact?
(turns, turns back)
Must what conspired on Calvary redound to this unsavory
A blind girl's, old man's, leper's, deaf man's lecture?
And where their PRIEST?
Witness of a witness speaks of the deceased.
(turns, vanishes into light)
By lamplight Sarad ministers to his master, who lies on a four-post bed.
Come, sire. Take this soup. (( SARAD
The lentils will gird your sleep.
No. Take it. Your Sarad insists. Come, here's
'Tis love that's offered. Don't . . . resist.
True love must be the ones (( JOSEPH
HE'S kissed . . . don't bother.
And the hell with your lentils . . . rather suck bowels
Than this mean swill.
You'd have me poisoned.
Marched to Galilee and back in nineteen hours
That I'd find a rat,
And God's out there, for all intents and purpose.
JUST that. Rumors. Rumors indeed.
Some man called Thomas stuck his fingers in the dead
Man's side and felt him bleed!
'Tis certain 'tis a wonder. (( SARAD
And all my living, (( JOSEPH
Cradle to the grave, a . . . blunder.
Here, sire, soup. (( SARAD
Here, taste this spoon.
There's time enough to lick your wounds.
Out! I need my peace to brood (( JOSEPH
On this foul day.
Seed the toilet with that swill. Come, off, I say!
And leave me.
Should the morning ever come you'll find me here
And willing to endure your ministrations.
I'm sorry, man, but be gone.
I'll carry on.
And sleep. Taste of that subtle death is breath,
The cure for all my cerebrations.
Sarad kisses his master, extinguishes the lamp, departs into absolute black. With time the room is black, all but the haze of Joseph writhing on the bed. Suddenly a male figure appears, drenched in light.
(terror in his voice)
I am the Christ. (( APPEARANCE
Begone, I saw you dead. (( JOSEPH
But living. (( APPEARANCE
(vanishes, reappears in a second location)
You seem in need of some forgiving.
(vanishes, reappears in a third location)
Judas is dead, that man is dead.
And yet alive, I'll grant that much!
(vanishes, reappears in the first location)
I've heard it SAID he kissed you. (( JOSEPH
Some conversation this, an apparition!
(then, to the appearance)
I've heard he struggled to resist you.
(who vanishes, reappears)
Come, stay put and speak your piece.
Lay hands upon my mind.
'Tis your disease. (( APPEARANCE
Sick of the chase that brought me (( JOSEPH
There and back.
(the figure vanishes, reappears)
I'd hoped to snare a corpse. Come, still!
You bade them hack me into three. (( APPEARANCE
I'm three again.
And off as quick.
(vanishes; all is black but the haze on the bed)
Sarad? SARAD? Sarad. (( JOSEPH
(the servant enters, bearing a torch)
What is it, sire? (( SARAD
Slaughter our greatest sow (( JOSEPH
And smear it on the steps.
Smear door and steps this moment with the blood.
Carry the carcass to our gentile neighbor.
All this in stealth, I'm dying.
I've had my death of blood, it may return.
A man was here who wills me burn.
But sire, 'tis night. (( SARAD
Endure the problem, not your sight. (( JOSEPH
Leave me in black, 'tis void of hue.
Blood's black enough and fiction's true.
Fierce monsters prowl
From dusk to dawn.
'Tis three that howl and three that's . . .
Off, man, I say!
And smear the blood. 'Tis blood they drink.
I fear my mind. If soul could think!
(Sarad exits with the torch; now absolute black)
Three hunks of Christ are scattered in the wild.
Worms eat his flesh for certain.
Born of a virgin, mild . . . ?
Fact has its death when fiction is secure.
Fact will endure?
When fiction shows its face, 'tis my conjecture.
The both are bitched!
I'll cease this lecture.
Bury me whole, I'll haunt their three in one.
The dying's started when the living's done.
(yawns; the bed creaks; yawns; silence)
A CHORUS (((((((((((((
The author provides a chorus.
AUTHOR ((((( who would forgive all
Joseph lived on apace and died in sleep.
Sarad survived but died in grief.
Magdalene rests on a stony hill.
Mary is quiet, stone still.
The six bold strangers carve a roast
In some quaint paradise, heard to boast
Of other meat they've set to blade.
The unnamed women? In their grave.
A blind young maiden met her end
At poor advice from a friend.
The latter was the son of the old man
Who vanished one bright afternoon
A dogged Savior rose from death.
The leper weeps and draws another breath.
Our guard still stands outside the door
Where, inside, disciples are no more.
The plants and trees exist.
Children laugh. Lovers insist
Their way into the STONY heart of man.
As for the Christ? Say what you can.
(exits, reading a newspaper)