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

                                       

for Theresa McCaul-Miller 

 

 

1

 

 

Even now I conjure, "Spirit, swell a large lament,"

That Christ to be would dare exceed

 

This Baptist of his Master's dwelling, this villagers'

Salvation, this welt, this paean of a Soul—

 

That even the latter issue toward some respite from its

Calling, tonight upon a dish, unnatural

 

Wrenching to proceed.  "But listen!  You shriek of breeze,

You lullaby of storm, for here small Baptist

 

Would engage your thought, concern, that he

Who dared to think he'd found the very navel of the earth

 

That starry night he climbed a Master's Axis Mundi

Toward the smoke hole in His tent,"

 

Were never to anticipate such Lord of Earth, this Son

Of Man, who'd rend the greater sky,

 

Celestial light, a welter, piercing shroud, even then

In the blaze of noon-time splendor,

 

As if the sacred night had notched its Birch,

 

       

If sweetest lad were God at 23, Christ

 

Certain as the etchings in his palm—and I

The lesser prophet—Jesus whom I dared obey, baptize

 

For some vast flock to come, for nameless billions strong,

And John himself a lesser range.

 

"For didn't that Jesus know self to be Christ?

We 2 alone above the water and beneath the heavens,

 

All but a Dove descending like a shredded blossom

To achieve, achieve His very Crown?"

 

 

2

 

 

Was merely 5 when wrenched me from my Mother

To serve the Shaman of our village,

 

Neurasthenic mite to follow in that irregular path.

I and 4 others nudged from shelter to endure

 

The rigors of our Master's worm hole to Almighty.

That night was pitch and fearful, that even now

 

I conjure the feel and scent of fear,

I at just 5 to learn from feathers and the drum his wailing,

 

"And nearly 7 years a rent in darkest shroud, unknowing,

That even the carpenter's lad would supplant him,

 

Or Jahweh-divined subservience to pith.

For despite prodigious gift that would tongues

 

Of all his elders waggle, this Jesus not yet born would eclipse?"

There in autumnal spill his cousin lay,

 

His John who in a dozen years, nay, 10, off to the wild

To sup on locust, honey, in pelt of camel's hair,

 

Wild ribbons for a tangled crown, hell-bound for journey

Toward renown.  "That Elisabeth herself would

 

Wrinkle, gnash teeth at fiercest passage of an only son.

All for a rending of the skies,

 

And wind's lament, that scatter of pastels on sacred waters

Searching Christ, whose sandals John unfit

 

To even carry let alone unstrap."  Would that Herodias

Had never known to marry husband's brother?

 

But who could second guess it?  Neither Herod, Herod's daughter,

Nor prophet's matted hair upon a platter.

 

 

3

 

 

Would taste her even now, that fierceness, beauty, Salomè,

Who called her mighty Herod to supplant

 

His common sense and even now this night

Sub-serve this Baptist's head, the matted locks that nymph

 

Might kiss, this wench, this serpent so enamored of a Master.

And Jesus Himself with Twelve, renown

 

That reaches John here bound to a jailer's pit.

I hear their strains aloft, the choral vertigo, the spin of chant,

 

Sheer loveliness, even that poisoned lullaby she dances

Heedless of propriety—that cosmos itself with baited breath

 

Awaits a crucifixion—for such is the prophet's fate, foretold

At least by this mad seer, who would summon

 

All repent, incline, even the Roman legions to this tiny God

Of Judah.  "Ah, dearest Lord who filters filth

 

From dark irregular earth, whose name is birth unending,

Your Son will rack of sinew bend.

 

Your Jesus shall be Christ."

Here in this pit I struggle to endure my heedless Fate, your John

 

Who baptized thousands in the drench and leak of God.

Who rose like His Lazarus dozens out of death,

 

Who chanted billion-fold salvation, who christened sleep,

Who sanctified all velvet skin,

 

Who wormed lament, who scaled the axis

Of his Master's tent, who summoned Paradise, retrieved

 

Perdition from the fount of Hades,

Engaged all planes, mild mannered, where the blade is.

 

 

4

 

 

Broke motion, slack.

Broke brilliance, black.

 

Investigated carnage and despair, skulled sylphlike, murderous,

Simply air, aloft on currents of the clouds,

 

Modest earth to dizzy heights,

Hymned mystery, rapture,

 

Cold currents of the captured.  "Yea, Jahweh, knew the mastery

Of vapor and the thick, incarnadine and pale,

 

Translucent and opaque, knew pity, pity's sake,"

Knew yet unknown,

 

Knew groan, knew emphasis,

Knew quivering, stasis, ethnicity, all races,

 

Christ's clutch, knew where the trace is.

Knew Peter, where his face is.  From dark to brilliant light—

 

Knew maggot, mastery.

Knew shouts, the sergeant entering with his cutlery, knew platter,

 

Knew bliss, knew sadder.  Here in the dark I fondle

Puberty of touch, a carnal pulse.

 

Knew omphalos—celestial

To Hell, searched out

 

Healed souls, scattered petals on the wild.

"Here, Jahweh, is your Baptist!"

 

Knew mild.  Leeched from the burning reputation of your Son a gladder

Missive than decapitation or dread.

 

Off GOES his head, fit fancy of a whore, a beauteous bitch.

Off goes his itch.  3 spikes adorn the navel of the rich.

 

 

5

 

 

Whether climbing 7 swords toward tri-part heaven,

Or straddling hair-width bridge

 

Above the damned, whether wrenching in salivation—

Or vastly aloft and winging toward Salvation.

 

Serving the blessed, succoring loss, a quest in underworld

Most hidden—the end to come

 

As such?  Victim to a heedless tart that envies noble state,

An age of honor

 

Payment for lascivious dance—though I knew lives cruel

And man a senseless tremor in the vibrant cure,

 

Knew Christ Himself would doubt His mission, that such WAS

My vision and such HIS karmic

 

Debt?  Such WAS the Prophet—full sensing cosmic seed

And where it sprouts, apprised

 

Of destiny for all but, vaguely, self, the latter cloaked

To spare what none can shoulder—spirit, mockery,

 

Vision, darkest glance.  And the whirl of intergalactic space,

Species aloft—dwarf star, planet, hole,

 

Kalpas of loss forever for the womb of Time,

This dance sublime, this cosmic prance, this motion—

 

A John who knew devotion,

A John who quaffed all potion.

 

Let sympathy attest to gentle in the thrust of Fate, that even Baptist

Licked his plate, that cup was cup 

 

And sapling bower, all beauty eaten,

Death devoured—for even easy Adam ached his Eden.

 

 

6

 

 

"Shatter my heart, sweet Jahweh, nurse this soul,

For here I hear the blade, the blade: I am afraid."

 

The sergeant whet his blade?

Abrade my senses, violate my brain?

 

For Death is strangely Sacral in this puzzling, vast terrain.

I blame my brain.  Inflamed terrain.  I blame, I blame

 

My will.  For will's not well.  He who has conquered

Some small Death must fear a larger Will.  Must fear a swell.

 

There are small provisions in the larder.

There is scent obscene.  There is ardor odor.

 

The fat are leanly bartered.

The dark are darkly troubled.  I fear this is myself

 

Or not my double.  I fear it is my Soul.

That dance above has claimed my Soul.

 

My Soul is whole.  My soul is of a piece.

Little the birth when little is the goal.  When is, when

 

Is the goal.  That other, Greek Jason with his fleece.

That Jason with his Lamb.

 

"Shatter my spirit gently in this fierce thirst to understand.

My castle rests on sand.

 

I sense Death's sharp demand.

I sense his thistle.  Pierced by the shrill of Fate that eats my calm,

 

I reap Death's whistle.  All calm moves on.

Some awful motion sways those voluptuous hips.

 

The canker's on its lips.  I swoon to lick those hips.

I lick its lips.  My crutch was life.  Ah, God, it slips."

 

 

7

 

 

My head is laid upon the block; all dance has ceased.

I press the earthen floor on bended knees.

 

This sergeant's gentle, whispered me to kneel.

I feel his fingers gauge my neck;

 

There is the slightest pressure; here, half sick with wonder

At a world I cannot measure soon to come.

 

This life has ended; the next is just begun.

Or is there Void beyond this aching?  Come, cease, my heart,

 

This awful breaking.

In several moments will I pave the path for Christ;

 

HIS minute's soon to fall on April of a Golem.

       Perhaps this same hand wields a sword that will impale Him.

 

       I judge him safer than the blade that Cain laid onto brother.

       I deem him steady as Our Father failed them.

 

      This death is near enough to taste; I smell the odor.

      Come, swing from there on high

 

       And glad it's over.

       A lesser soul than Thee would hardly bother.  A lesser soul

 

      Would spit into the future.  Would seed real torture.

      Come, God, endure this wandering Spirit

 

      In his final motion.  Seed doubt where doubt can root,

      This prophet's tongue is mute; he reels

 

      With mad sensation.  I fear this Nation.  And not the Roman

     Eagle.  I fear for Judah and engage its evil.

 

     Engage God's knees.  The sword would whistle through the dark.

     Odder than ease, a Baptist dares embark.

 

 

 

                                                                   A Monday after Easter, 2008

 

  

                                    Salome with the Baptist's Head     

                                       

         

                                                                             Caravaggio

 

                                                   the Christ

    

 

 

 

                                                                                     Unknown