David Swartz "RELIGION WITH AN EDGE"
biblicalfictions.com
Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum
After the Crucifixion

     {from Gnosis} 

                                              an idyll

                                              an idyll 

 

 

 

ONE (((((((((((((

 

 

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

 

MAGDALENE

 

MARY ((((( mother of James

 

SARAD ((((( servant to Joseph

 

FOUR LADIES

 

 

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.

     (they wail)

And cease those cries.

By some accounts he's half way toward

     His Resurrection.

Prove it by me, I'd have to see.

Let others trace the lost connection.

Let Peter who has fled

This lately dead.

     (they wail)

What's up will down?

Or down will up—I'll let you find the right

     Direction.

 

 

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,

Cried.

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

Shortly.

     (they gather up; the two women press against the cart,

      which the two men pull into gathering black)

 

 

 

 

TWO (((((((((((((

 

 

Dead night before an open cave.  Joseph is a pale haze from the flicker of torchlight within, where Sarad prepares the body.

 

 

JOSEPH

 

SARAD

 

SIX STRANGERS

 

 

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.

 

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

Your silence.

 

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

      a mummy)

 

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.

That near.

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)

 

                                                                                      

 

THREE (((((((((((((

 

 

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.

 

 

JOSEPH

 

A WITNESS ((((( the young girl

 

 

Who moved the stone?                           (( JOSEPH

 

Who speaks?                                          (( THE WITNESS

     (startled)

Come, trace your name here in this sand,

I'll show you I can read.

 

But blind you are.                                  (( JOSEPH

You're blind?

     (enters the cave)

Who moved the stone?  And . . .

     (emerges)

 

The Christ?  He's risen.                         (( THE WITNESS

 

Fancy that.                                             (( JOSEPH

     (aside)

It's gone that far.

     (then)

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 . . .

     In time.

This lingers!

 

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

No,

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)

 

 

 

 

FOUR (((((((((((((

 

 

Joseph overtakes on the road a very old man gripping a stick.

 

 

JOSEPH

 

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

In water.

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

First.

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)

  

 

                                                                                                                 

FIVE (((((((((((((

 

 

Joseph is hailed by a leper in an advanced state of decay, sitting beside the road.

 

 

JOSEPH

 

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

Who said?

 

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

The remnant

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)

 

 

 

 

SIX (((((((((((((

 

 

Late afternoon before a low clay house, a guard stands with a spear.  Joseph approaches, unsteady, fatigued.

 

 

JOSEPH

 

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

     (aside)

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

     (then louder)

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

His frustration.

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,

     Henbane

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

EXACT?

     (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

     Monk's conjecture?

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)

 

                  

                                                                    

SEVEN (((((((((((((

 

 

By lamplight Sarad ministers to his master, who lies on a four-post bed.

 

 

JOSEPH

 

SARAD

 

AN APPEARANCE

 

 

Come, sire.  Take this soup.                 (( SARAD

The lentils will gird your sleep.

No.  Take it.  Your Sarad insists.  Come, here's

The spoon.

'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.

 

 

Who's there?                                         

     (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

     (then, aside)

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

What purpose?

     (vanishes, reappears)

I'm three again.

     (vanishes, reappears)

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.

Certain

I've had my death of blood, it may return.

A man was here who wills me burn.

Come, off!

 

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!

Pray, off!

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)

 

 

                                                    FINIS

 

                                                    1992