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

 

for Charles Vedova

 

  

 

 

Then Jesus came with them to a small estate called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Stay here while I go over there to pray."  And sadness came over him, and great distress.  Then he said to them, "My soul is sorrowful to the point of death.  Wait here and keep awake with me."  And going on a little further, he fell on his face and prayed.  "My Father," he said, "if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.  Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I would have it."

 

 

                      MATTHEW 26: 36-39

 

 

       ))))))))))))) THE JERUSALEM BIBLE

 

 

ACT ONE SCENE ONE ((((( Thomas and Bartholomew

 

 

In a farmhouse on the estate of Gethsemane, Bartholomew sits alone, hunched, eyeing his hands.  His back is humped by a linen sack, ragged and unclean as his robe.  Thomas, of similar appearance, enters through a heavy cloth covering the stone archway.  The light is dim.  He stands a while till his eyes adjust.  There is a certain coarseness to his voice, a sarcasm, an impatience.  The variance among all disciples is conveyed by regional U. S. or British accents.  Even the four fishermen are distinguished in this manner.  Christ alone speaks standard U. S. or British English.

 

 

Christ sake, it's simply you.     (( THOMAS

I thought I was alone.

I'd given half the world to be alone

For just a week,

To speak to no one.

This madness touches all.

I thought he'd come to free us

Of a burden.

And what's this universe that's pressing

On my shoulders?

And what's that hump on yours?

A bit of fish perhaps, a loaf?

I'll say for me last night was not

The final supper,

Not while this belly's urging.

Take and eat, Bartholomew,

Before the rest arrive.

The gaunt one'd have us pray a bit to earn

The right to share his fodder.

The way he's come to talk

There'll be a Resurrection.

Come on, my stomach speaks.

This last is real

And gives direction.

Praise appetite.

The hell with mystery and fog.

Come, whip it out!

Let others trace some lost connection.

 

And where ARE the others?     (( BARTHOLOMEW

 

Scattered down the valley,        (( THOMAS

Some with the master.

It's starting to eat him up, these miracles.

Even the elders haunt him for a trick.

 

 

Bartholomew pulls his wicker chair to a low table, empties the contents of his sack.  There are fish, bread, a goatskin of wine perhaps, several eating utensils.  Thomas goes over what is there, sorting, licking his fingers, sorting into new arrangements.  Bartholomew has turned away, forearms bridging head to knees, is staring down toward the earthen floor.  Thomas kneels at the open fireplace, pulls flint and tinder from his garment, back to the audience, starts a fire.  During all this they seem to be talking less to each other than to LISTENER, the force of history oppressing them, fixing even the rudest gesture in a weight of moment, a burden of meaning.

 

 

There's that about you,                (( BARTHOLOMEW

Doubting Thomas,

Perhaps a talent, often just a curse.

You find your reasons for living, even in a sack.

 

A bit of oil, I'd go mad with        (( THOMAS

This.

 

 (indicating the fish)

 

A bit of oil, I'm trapped in this.

 

I'd rather see him dead                (( BARTHOLOMEW

Than followed thus

To some unseemly execution,

And yet you prepare to eat.

 

We're all going under in the       (( THOMAS

End.

If eat you must you'll eat your friend.

 

You with your fix on life            (( BARTHOLOMEW

When even dreams decay and willing haunts us.

Christ, take it all

And stuff your gut!

They'll eat HIM soon enough, even his manhood.

They'll suck his bowels and belch like swine.

 

A bit of oil for one last touch.     (( THOMAS

Even a touch of seasoning.

I always took his spice

Over their reasoning.

You yourself found it nice

That his little always did for much.

 

Or his much for their little.         (( BARTHOLOMEW

And here you fondle fish

And lick your fingers.

I'd do my best to scream it all away,

The day I paused and listened,

That lilting in his voice.

 

The lowest dirt about him           (( THOMAS

Glistened.

 

Didn't we all see it?                    (( BARTHOLOMEW

 

They're all down there tugging  (( THOMAS

On his robe,

Simon Peter smiling like a jackal.

Say what you will I feel his envy.

And not to speak of Judas with his airs.

They say that Christ is death,

The loneliest of creatures.

He sent us out to preach in pairs.

I'll eat this fish.

As for the lamb, we'll see his Simon flee it.

 

Flee goat or lamb, flee fish?       (( BARTHOLOMEW

The whole world hastens from this birth

The savior casts as death,

Or hastens hence,

Attracted by the sight.

They'll squeeze him for some sign before it's over.

 

Old man, you're sounding         (( THOMAS

Like a prophet.

Lips kiss,

All but a breath to blow the candle out.

We share in treason,

All of us.

So take your fish and when the Christ returns

Just act devout.

The truth will out, he said, himself.

This fish is truth, devour it.

There's none of us that's clean enough to lick

The platter he's served up,

The lamb himself.

So eat.

Even your teeth in time

Will enter someone's stew.

 

Before it's through.                   (( BARTHOLOMEW

 

So take and chew.                     (( THOMAS

 

Before it's through.                   (( BARTHOLOMEW

 

 

                      CURTAIN

 

 

ACT ONE SCENE TWO ((((( add Matthew

 

 

Thomas and Bartholomew are bent at fish and bread.  The room has brightened from the fire.  There are chairs, straw mats, litter.  Of the two men, Thomas eats with the greater relish, brandishing bone and husk with a gourmand's flourish.  The sounds of their eating are nearly primordial.  Light from the fire casts their shadows, magnified, even toward fear, against the wall.  Through this, Matthew appears.  His voice, while regional, is almost too precise.  Of the twelve disciples, he is the most educated, even beyond Judas.  His robe bears the traces of its original finery but like the others is dirty and worn.  He wears it, however, with some dignity.

 

 

Thomas, I can tell.                     (( MATTHEW

He's eating.

Of the other I would swear it's some old man

They'd like to call Bartholomew.

He's eating too.

 

Your precision is nearly            (( THOMAS

Frightening.

You add it up

For us and get nothing.

There's nothing here for you to tax but bone

And grease.

The bread we'll claim as our deduction, Matthew.

Just lick the plate for tithing.

Bartholomew has had his fill

Of mathematics.

Such sums would make a demon ill.

And where's the Christ?

 

Leeched by the rest.                     (( MATTHEW

What news is that?

 

I wager he does better in OUR     (( THOMAS

Hearts.

 

'Tis not the proper bet.                 (( MATTHEW

He's down there now with fishermen and thieves.

They measure him for a coat.

He calls himself the lamb.

Goad them long enough he'll be the goat;

You'll see it yet.

Those rabbis have a large stick up their sleeves.

 

Tell HIM that.                              (( BARTHOLOMEW

He'll order you behind him like his favorite.

 

There's just a bit for you,             (( THOMAS

    

(indicating a chair, pushing a plate)

 

If you're in earnest,

A bit of fish, some bread.

We'd offer more

If more were in the offing.

The other one would split it up a bit

And feed us ALL to split

And sit him down at it

And draw a lesson.

We'd leave this table fit to work a cure.

 

Just a touch of that skin               (( MATTHEW

If you can call it wine.

I'll drink to reason, equity and honor.

I'll drink to quell my gut.

I'll drink to Caesar if he'll pay the rent.

I'll drink to Philip's spit.

My luck tonight I'll have to sleep in it.

    

(sips from the goatskin)

 

Just a touch of skin

And touched by that I'll drink to sin.

Somehow I think I'm touched.

Somehow I think.

    

(sips again)

 

I did much better wringing Caesar

From their purse

Than all this shouting for a prophet.

Within this week

They'll wring HIM for a hearse.

 

I'm willing to think it.               (( BARTHOLOMEW

 

I'm willing to say it.                  (( THOMAS

 

I'm willing to scream it.            (( MATTHEW

All those parables he'll trade for a dead man's

Shriek.

In time, in time, perhaps a week.

Oh yes, beloved one,

You love the poor.

They even make your mother out to be a whore

For some holy ghost or such,

In turn a virgin.

The elders need no further urging.

Riding toward them on an ass was not enough.

You played it

Even with the temple rats, tough,

Just that tough.

As if a bit of truth were not enough.

Christ, I've followed you

All the way toward your improbable message,

This protracted ugly birth.

Our lives are straw.

All we thought you might have been

And what you are.

Just that far, that far is far enough.

 

 

Bartholomew pushes his plate back and turns toward the fire.  He runs his hands back through his shag of dark hair, inspects his fingers, scratches, inspects his fingers, lifts a sandaled foot, inspects, inspects his fingers, stands, crosses to a straw mat and lies down fetal.  Matthew reaches into his robe and feels about, comes up with a small scroll, opens it, rolls it back together, replaces it in his robe.  Thomas rests his head on his folded arms, eyes down into the table.  Matthew crosses to the fire, removes the scroll, attempts to read.  During all this Thomas is chanting softly nonsense syllables, a mantra of sorts, an oration.

 

 

So little is recorded                (( MATTHEW

Even yet,

So little that is even half the truth,

A quarter, tenth.

They'd leave it to me to make him sing

For thirty thousand years,

And yet I have no voice,

No voice for it.

The song that comes will fill the world

With rankest croaking,

Pitiful distortion,

Making agony of light, and sin of fortitude

And tears.

Even then over the years,

They'll parody his message,

A host of imbeciles and steers, a carnage

Even here would well astound

The doubting that assails us.

I am without fear

For the Christ.

I shriek for his memory.

There is not enough of such a man,

Even for us.

They will stretch him toward the planets.

There is not enough of his kiss,

His touch,

Even his arrogance,

That much his Judas hates,

Not enough for what they call him into being.

Yes Christ, save us.

Not a billion years of chanting fools

In silk and better raiment,

Not all this world forever thirsting to be born,

But simply twelve of us,

Four fishermen, a tax collector,

Even the Zealot, even a tortured monk,

And God knows whom,

Twelve fools, twelve who in their own way loved him.

Free us.

Certain damnation for our issue, I would take

Your comfort here and now and not this ending coming

     Toward us.

I would take your kiss.

Enough of bliss, I'd take that kiss.

 

 

                                                  CURTAIN

 

 

ACT ONE SCENE THREE ((((( add Philip and James, son of Alphaeus

 

 

Fire still illuminates the room, illuminates the scroll where Matthew sits writing.  Bartholomew is fast asleep, coiled on a corner mat.  Thomas nods, head upon his folded arms, at the low table.  The wineskin is nearly empty.  From beyond the farmhouse one can hear muffled voices, shouts, nothing distinguishable within the large stone room.  In time Philip enters, and James, son of Alphaeus.  The two are wearing belts.  Each secures a sheath and sword.  The appearance of these men is different also in their hair, which is shorter, and in their carriage, which is blunter and more angular.  Their voices are harsher, aggressive.  They punctuate their heavy regional accents with coarse laughter.  Yet within the exterior is a softness.

 

 

The old man taking his rest          (( PHILIP

In the corner while Matthew writes.

Thomas, the usual glutton,

Working down some fodder.

Here Matthew, this sword is mightier

Than your pen.

 

I'll second that.                             (( JAMES

    

(both flourish their sheaths)

 

The only sword I need is here      (( MATTHEW

Between my legs.

 

You'll cut no meat with that.       (( JAMES

 

I'll split the fork that counts.        (( MATTHEW

Speaking of forks, where's Magdalene?

 

Somewhere chasing the master.   (( PHILIP

 

Chasing the master's sword,        (( JAMES

If truth would have it.

In truth it is a lamb's

But sword enough the last I saw it.

He can cringe like a woman,

Languish like a child,

And yet the evidence is there.

I'll swear he is a man.

 

And you a swine                          (( MATTHEW

Posing as a soldier.

I'm sure he's given you opinion

On that subject.

The only cheek you'll turn is backing off,

And then you'd fear your sister, Judas.

All swords aside,

Where is the servile one?

 

Counting our money.                   (( JAMES

 

What there is of it.                       (( THOMAS

    

(yawns, stretches)

 

And what there is of YOU          (( PHILIP

That stinks of fish.

James, your lover wakes.

 

Let's see HIS sword.                  (( JAMES

I'll snip a bit and fry it up for supper.

 

And what a poor meal that         (( PHILIP

Would be!

And what the issue?

He'd piss through what is left

And fail to shake it.

He'd stuff his gut with all our indecision.

He'd out with that the nether end

And wait for our applause.

Whatever the cause,

He'd milk us.

The man's a coward and a fool, right, Thomas?

 

When was your eyesight            (( THOMAS

Ever one to trust?

James, your friend there,

Philip, apes your every gesture.

You turn to look like twins,

Twins swords, twin tunics,

Twin brains.

No wonder Christ complains

We can't repeat his tricks.

The pair of you strutting like the ghosts

Of a centurion,

Greasy as this plate and twice as stupid.

And yet you call yourselves apostles.

I'd sell the two of you

For one more whore to grace our company

Even if she'd never open up,

Even if she sewed it.

You'd make a jackal scream with all your flourish.

Christ sake, I'd even take the Zealot.

 

Here's your chance                    (( JAMES

    

(drawing his straight heavy sword)

 

To back the mouth I'm hearing.

You may be full of Christ, you're not God fearing.

At the least I'll swat your ass for you.

Another sentence runs you though.

 

 

Thomas pushes back his chair, lifts his robe as if to bare his buttocks at the angry disciple, snaps erect and spins, a flourish of the robe, almost the grace of a young woman, leaps to the table and begins to dance, a clatter of dinnerware, a stomp that stirs Bartholomew and has the rest in laughter.  The sword is sheathed, and Matthew turns back to his writing.  Philip and James join Thomas at the table.  Bartholomew lies back on his mat and tries to sleep.  The fire flickers down.  They lapse into silence.  At last, Matthew stands and reads from his scroll.

 

 

"How happy are the poor         (( MATTHEW

in spirit:

Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Happy the gentle:

They shall have the earth for their heritage.

Happy those who mourn:

They shall be comforted.

Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:

They shall be satisfied.

Happy the merciful:

They shall have mercy shown them.

Happy the pure in heart:

They shall see God.

Happy the peacemakers:

They shall be called sons of God.

Happy those

Who are persecuted in the cause of right:

Theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

    

(sits back down at the fire)

 

That seems close enough            (( PHILIP

For me,

And yet I'd say

It's more the substance

Than the spirit.

Which of us cannot remember

Capernaum?

Which of us is happy that it passed?

 

An aching die was cast.               (( THOMAS

 

Which of us is happy that it         (( JAMES

That it passed?

Oh that it might have last!

An aching die was cast.

 

 

                                            CURTAIN

 

 

ACT ONE SCENE FOUR ((((( add Thaddaeus and Simon the Zealot

 

 

James, son of Alphaeus, rests on a mat against the wall.  Philip is at the fireplace, reading over Matthew's shoulder.  Thomas is still at the table, rummaging through Bartholomew's empty sack for something more to eat.  The fire has died a bit, yet still casts shadows of their figures against the walls and ceiling.  It is dark beyond the doorway, and there is little sound.  At last, Thaddaeus and Simon the Zealot approach, arguing.  The argument, which continues within the farmhouse, is more a soliloquy of Simon's, punctuated by pieces of Thaddaeus's derision.  Simon the Zealot is a type of the born again Christian.  He is found by all to be a nuisance and a bore, the general butt of all their frustration and anger.

 

 

Adding it all together,             (( SIMON

There is really no full measure

Of his greatness.

Praise God!  Praise God!

We'll simply add poor measure, some poor nothing

To his fullness,

To his measure.  Praise God!

I'll measure that.

That Christ is come in glory,

A fitting end to the Jew's sad story,

Simply a radiance!

Praise God!  Praise God!

Just to know him is my treasure, measure, pleasure,

To feel him at my whim and leisure,

When all the world hereafter

Can but know a shadow.

Even in paradise the angels envy

What we've touched,

Even the slightest nuance of his voice.  Oh God,

Had I my touch

That paradise could halt its certain progress

Just to keep him by us.

And yet he promises to come again.

Praise God!  Praise God!

I hardly wait.

Thaddaeus, you're not the sort of saint to touch

What feeling teaches,

All this wonder, all this Christ.

Your airs are sullen, sliced.

You're caught, afraid.  Praise God!  Praise God!

 

And you're the ass he rode        (( THADDAEUS

To our great City.

An ass that talks and more the pity.

Be quiet now, you stir the rest.

The day is long and past its due.

These men are pressed, hard pressed.

Be shut a while and mind

Your tongue.

Your mind's a fog, senility,

Even if your zeal is young.

I'll hear no more!

Now . . . No, not a trace.

You're worse than all the rabble.

You're seen as our disgrace.

Christ, look at Thomas, set to stuff his face.

Simple Simon here would eat the master's dung

And close his eyes on paradise

And tithing.

And milk the rich and starve the poor in heart.

And leech the young

And discourse on the wisdom

Of an angel's fart.

Don't start!

I've had enough of beatific glory.

We near the ending of a different story.

Don't start!  Don't start!

As if he ever ended.

 

You act offended.                      (( SIMON

All I'm after is a bit of light,

One final scent of his pure wisdom, just a scent.

It's you that's bent.

Praise God!  Praise God!

Repent!

 

I have your repent right here.    (( THOMAS

    

(indicating his groin)

 

And here is mine.                      (( JAMES

    

(indicating his groin)

 

We're doubly repented.

Hard on it at any rate, you misery,

And harder by the minute.

    

(lifting his robe a bit)

 

You're welcome in it

If you're after daily bread.

You trespass here

You'll raise the dead.

And yet it's life enough for one last tithing.

I speak of thorns and not arriving.

Come, down to it.

Milk this for your wisdom.

 

I'll not spend a word                  (( SIMON

On such thoughts.

You hate me for my zeal.

But what you have

Is just a grip on hate.

The first will be last.

The last will be late.

The next will burn in God's eternal fire.

Something like that he said

If Matthew has it right.

I've not my wits tonight.

I've not my wits.

Praise God!  He'll love me in the end

When love is through with imbeciles

And ready for a friend.

This hardship is unfeeling.

You're half his friend.

That thing between your legs—

It's only a snack.

We'll take and eat for twenty billion years.

We'll float.

I've had enough of your obscenity.

Enough of your fears.

The best of you are slugs.

You'll writhe on the savior's griddle.

You'll burn in hell.

That hell of his is more than just a riddle!

 

If there's a riddle                          (( THOMAS

In Christ's talk it's simply you.

You live to see them burn

Wherever you turn

To learn

The weight of his sad message.

You'd have his mother fry like some sad fish

For even winking at a stone,

Have Magdalene atone

For opening up a bit to make us whole

The way this voyage haunts us.

You'd damn the other Simon

For his caring

That the man, the only one we love among us,

Dares to suffer at their hands,

And then dissuade him.

You'd take the worst of his vision

For a bonfire

To toast the slow to learn

And make them burn

And make them burn

And make them burn.

You'd toast the slow to learn.

Simon, you're not that simple.

We've seen your type since Sodom.

They'll roast him soon enough,

Perhaps this spring.

You'd have him roast the balance in the autumn.

 

To everlasting fire,                       (( PHILIP

We heard his message.

Am I not right?

Just check the verse and line.

He said he'd roast them fine.

Check it, Matthew.

This Simon has his argument,

And which of them is right?

 

I'm not that far.                            (( MATTHEW

PERHAPS tonight.

He said the rest would burn.

 

Praise God!  Praise God!             (( SIMON

 

The man turns my stomach.        (( JAMES

 

And Jesus mine.                          (( PHILIP

 

In time he'll turn the world.        (( THOMAS

 

We had hoped that much,           (( BARTHOLOMEW

    

(stretching, rising from his mat)

 

All of us.

There are things only the Zealot is ready

To swallow.

There are thoughts too broad for tears.

 

Praise God!                                  (( SIMON

You think it odd that I praise God.

Praise God!  Praise God!

You think it odd.

Even so far away I smell your stink.

Such is what comes when man shall stop and think.

 

 

                                                                   CURTAIN

 

 

ACT TWO SCENE ONE ((((( the inner circle

 

 

In an adjacent room of the farmhouse, perhaps an out-building, Christ is central on a bench against a stone wall.  The disciples Simon Peter, James, son of Zebedee, and John, James's brother, are grouped about him, shifting positions throughout this and the following scenes.  Magdalene is on the floor at Christ's feet, embracing his lower legs.  At times she rises to massage his back, to wash his hands and face, to braid his hair, to fetch him milk, to administer to him in a loving, obsessive, nearly sexual manner.  Andrew is on watch beyond the building.  He will return in time to be replaced by another of the fishermen.  The light is dim in this setting, leaking perhaps only from several oil lamps at the ends of the bench.  The primary concern is that of four men and a harlot, the enigma of the God which has entered their lives and soon will depart.  Of the disciples here portrayed, Simon Peter is the eldest, bearded, gray, the most dignified, and yet there is something of the orotund about his voice and gesture.  Perhaps he is too aware his Christ has handed him a Church.  Not unlike the others, however, he would likely have preferred a thing less fearful.  The Christ himself is dark, muscular, virile.  His voice and gestures are in turn gentle, frenzied, harsh.  He is the messiah of Grünewald's altarpiece.

 

 

The others have had their           (( CHRIST

Sack of fish

And are asleep.

What say you to sleep?

Simon, would you have me sleep before the sleep?

Magdalene would sleep against my knees,

Would sleep with ease

Of sorts.

Simon Peter, is she less than sleep?

I am so full of riddle

This last hour that I'd ask

For riddles simply to amuse me.

Happy the one who chose his rabbi for a dinner

Simply trying to lose me.

He'll stab at all the endings we procure

Even by our living.

By your actions alone you cannot fail to choose me.

    

(reaching his hand to Peter's shoulder)

 

How much of this touch,

This touch is such,

And yet you don't know even Simon

That I'm touching.

Which of us has found the world

Has found a corpse,

And he who has found a corpse,

Of him is the world not worthy.

When the outer is the inner,

And the inner the outer,

And the right the left,

And the down the up,

And the left the right,

And the man a woman,

And the woman man,

There is the kingdom of heaven!

How much of this touch,

This touch is such,

And yet you can't know Peter

That I'm touching.

    

(reaching left to James)

 

Rather than take my name, they'd scorn the pieces.

    

(the voice has become more agitated)

 

Such is our humankind,

Our brave new species.

 

I cannot bear to hear you             (( SIMON PETER

Speak

So terribly.

Perhaps you still have time.

There may be time to tell us who you are,

What you are for us.

You'd have me be the rock of your sad church.

I am never so old as to wish

You out of this that even old men can proceed.

We are here, dear Lord,

Here in your final hours.

I can vouch for all but Judas, at least myself.

Here in your time of need at least myself.

A church needs God.

We've had enough of Cain.

It's not enough to say you'll rise again.

 

Oh yes, dear master.                    (( MAGDALENE

    

(she grips his legs more tightly)

 

The touch of you is larger than your promise,

The bit I've touched.

I have seen your hair like fire,

Blue as a summer day

Yet a blue that's burning.

Tonight your hair is darker than my heart,

Its very aching.

I'd have you have it even now

And not for breaking.

Your Simon cannot vouch for me more than the rest,

And yet I'm more afraid for you

That seems now human, manly, coarser

Than the best we knew, even willing

The slaughtered lamb,

If I have read you, just now a shriek at best.

 

Such is our brave new species.    (( CHRIST

James?

 

You might talk of that woman     (( JAMES

At your knees.

Certainly you cannot mean us.

A woman's sole concern is with your sex.

Even the best would be filled.

They'd take it for a baby more than pleasure,

And then you'd be a father, not a son.

In time your son in turn would be a father,

All the way toward endless procreation.

The way she hangs on you,

I'd take your genealogy at David over Spirit,

God's middle leg, no matter how

You steer it!

 

I know I love you.                        (( JOHN

 

And I.                                           (( SIMON PETER

 

And Magdalene?                          (( CHRIST

 

Enough to burn in hell for           (( MAGDALENE

Loving you

Beyond where you would let me.

Enough to scream toward flesh

I'd dare to taste

If time and love would make me half your wife.

Even as it is you can't forget me.

Fresh as youth, I'd give you haste

Or leisure.

There would be no quick end to your pleasure.

What is the love of a man,

Let alone your eunuchs leeching

Some unearthly paradise?

A virgin I have twitched for fourteen months.

I'm flesh begun and STILL not wood.

    

(Christ touches her hair)

 

That much you touch is taste for you and good.

I'd have you eat my womanhood

And not just Eden.

I'd have you eat, not simply eaten.

 

Come!  Straddle this bench       (( CHRIST

And rub my back.

Old rock, you'll move aside

For more than just a maiden!

When God made purity

Her brother's name was Satan.

And yet both figure in this universe.

The life that breathes

Is often just a curse.

The curse is life, that we should texture God,

Complete his being.

Even the stuff of hatred has its balance.

Even pure murder conjures up Jehovah.

Each action gives him fullness

In the end.

A whore's a virgin for her closest friend.

And virgins eat their full of Herod's stew.

Death has its place in living just as you.

Straddle this bench

And rub my back.

Your white will show when even God is black.

 

Matthew were here he'd take    (( JAMES

It in

And save it for the writing.

He'd have that sure enough.

And yet to my poor soul there's little sense.

Surely to evil there is terror.

Forgive me if I'm found in error.

Forgive me if you will I taste a whore

Rather than my wife

And then forgiven if not more.

And mercy on the mind

That cannot master paradox.

You start at pure.  Your purest mocks.

Forgive the bent that would seek for Christ,

Declare the opposition overpriced.

Forgive that all her touching

Gives me pain,

That all that's chaste should seem in vain,

Including even Jesus

By your talk.

Christ's sake and that were you

I'd take a walk.

 

Hear him out,                             (( PETER

Even if he's simple,

Simply James.

I must confess confusion, even I myself.

If Magdalene's the truth then truth's a whore.

There must be more.

 

There must be more.                    (( JOHN

Don't shout, there must be more.

 

What you have made of me        (( CHRIST

And will make

I have been.  Dear John,

The God which grows within us knows no sin.

A saint is a God which cannot simply be.

God conjures us

And yet you conjure me!

 

 

                                                        CURTAIN

 

 

ACT TWO SCENE TWO ((((( John replaces Andrew

 

 

Christ sits astride the bench, leaning into his knees.  Magdalene, behind him, braids his hair.  The disciples, Simon Peter and James, have taken mats on the floor at the feet of the Christ and woman.  John has departed to take his turn at watch.  Andrew is soon expected.  There is an air of calm.  At last, Andrew appears through the cloth covering the doorway, leaking a spill of light and at just that moment, the muffled sound of anguish, screams and groans, and against it, counting, which proceeds at last to twelve.  Simon and James, startled, coil erect.  Magdalene tightens, leaving off her braiding.  Christ alone remains seemingly oblivious.  At the end of the counting there is loud hoarse laughter, then moans, then silence.  With Andrew's explanation of the phenomenon, the others return to the attitude of measured anticipation, sensing the coming betrayal.  Andrew, of all the disciples, stands out for his scarlet gown.  He is blond, fairer than the rest.  A simple fisherman, he is not without affectation.  If Simon Peter is the favorite, Andrew is youth itself, a carnal attraction for the rest, a lure.

 

 

Look here,                                   (( SIMON PETER

Our youth approaches.

God, what's that sound?

 

'Tis just the zealot                       (( ANDREW

    

(at the doorway, indicating)

 

And the others counting.

They bait him for his zeal.

Thomas bade him thrust his hand in fire

For all the time he truly

Loves the Christ.

It lasts twelve seconds.

 

In time he'll roast his foot           (( JAMES

And take it for a sandwich.

Have they not enough of fish?

What supper are those fingers, even in a pudding?

But such is Zealot, he must have his wish.

Even his agony is histrionic.

Such madness can't relent,

More terminal than chronic.

 

And where is my brother,            (( CHRIST

Judas?

It seems to me with friends.

Patience will reveal

Their studied ends,

Pure patience.

Maggie, leave off a while, I'm cute enough.

Andrew, that robe

Offends their eyes.

The spirit robs their soul

And feeds your thighs.

 

Better than Simon Zealot's        (( ANDREW

Hand.

    

(he is looking back through the doorway)

 

'Tis much the same shade

By now, a crimson hue.

Better to heat the blood and not the flesh,

Although the flesh will heat.

Better to take and eat.

You're looking splendid with that hair

And need a crown.

The harlot there is mercy for a frown.

 

I'll have your harlot, fresh        (( MAGDALENE

One,

Simpering like Judas.

Come here, I'll have it all.

I serve your master with my fingers

And would will my cut

If time had meant it so.

He'd have me quick,

Not dead.

I'm not ashamed to love a man, he's man enough.

Such as you are less male than me,

Twitching your cheeks toward wisdom.

Dear Christ,

I've had enough of men.

Even YOUR hands leave off where they begin.

 

There is not much time             (( THE CHRIST

For banter

Here tonight.

Of all the twelve

A twelfth has taken flight.

I cannot fear what Judas stoops to seek.

Dear Andrew, sit you down

And hear me speak.

Here, take a bench.

I've half enough with just a wench.

 

Not to your right, here               (( SIMON PETER

At my feet.

You've bitched all protocol, dear Christ,

With that lean slut

That pets your hair.

No, not the bench, take care.

For here on earth, his Simon will alone endure

The privilege, take it to his heart,

If sit he must.

Sit to the right of Christ the Lord

When sitting's just.

Here by the feet of Peter, fair young man.

I'll eat what lurks beneath that scarlet robe,

Devour your leg, your guts.

This old man eats where eating lusts.

 

This whole thing's silly             (( ANDREW

As a maidenhead.

Your purity would mock the dead.

    

(sits back, head in Peter's lap)

 

Your purity would mock a goose.

Your brain is tight; your lips are loose.

But enough.

What has the master for us?

 

Yes, to the point.                       (( JAMES

We wait for wisdom. 

It is hardly enough to wait.

You said the path was narrow as the needle's

 Gate.

Narrow as the eye.

Simon, the young man makes to stroke your thigh!

 

'Twas a joke, dear Lord,             (( ANDREW

Just but commence.

 

What's often jest is often            (( CHRIST

Sense.

But pull the dirt from your ears and listen well.

Here is the substance of the spirit.

Here is the thrust of hell.

Here is the touch of light itself

That cuts the night.

Here is the certainty of inquiry

And sight.

Here is the terror at the dawn of grace.

Blessed is the man who hears a void

And strokes a face.

To take in truth

Is fearful stuff,

For what is true today is not enough.

We make our truth

By gnawing on the seeds of doubt.

Such indecision lets it out.

All that your Christ has been is simply jest,

Even the final horror,

Even the rest,

Yet jest enough to laugh you into hell.

You've heard the Zealot yell.

He takes my flames as literal, even in his hands.

The lies I've told

Are what the age demands.

See past them!

See far beyond the lie that death would harness.

See far beyond the life that truth would reach.

There's more to truth than lies

If you can reach beyond the lies that they become.

When truth is dead

Another truth's begun.

And yet a lie, of course.

Your faces disbelieve, you seem perplexed.

That's half the measure.

If I am to be found

It's not at leisure.

Peter will found a church.

The larger flock will disbelieve and found another.

Others simply will not bother.

Complacency's the church the church should flee.

Put out your eyes that you might see!

 

This seems a larger joke              (( ANDREW

For this man's taste.

Perhaps the master speaks in haste.

 

I hear the words as if they           (( SIMON

Come

From God.

'Tis odd such words would come from God.

You'd have us have you true and yet a lie.

Such is this world this world has passed me by.

 

Leave off the HAIR, dear             (( JAMES

Dear Magdalene,

He's growing softer by the minute.

With luck he'll have us wading in it.

With luck he'll have us scream.

I've heard some things from Judas

That were less obscene.

This Jesus I don't know, he seems a monk.

What are you trying to show us,

Master, simply the cadaver of our faith?

This seems a husk.

You've turned it inside out.

 

We're left with doubt.               (( SIMON

 

It seems that's what my            (( CHRIST

Faith's about.

So kiss my doubt

And damn these partial lies.

There is more of mercy in a harlot's thighs.

 

 

                                                                  CURTAIN

 

 

ACT TWO SCENE THREE ((((( James replaces John

 

 

Christ lies on the bench, head in Magdalene's lap.  He is fast asleep.  Andrew and Simon Peter face each other before the bench, legs crossed, seated on a mat.  They are looking directly into each other's eyes, trying perhaps for a kind of I-Thou.  There is a period of complete silence at the beginning of this scene, the only movement, Magdalene's fondling Christ's hair.  At the appearance of John, who has been replaced by James on watch, the two seated disciples recoil from their eye contact to lean back on their hands.  John sits, back to the audience, between them, facing inward toward the bench and the head of Christ on the harlot's lap.  The conversation is somewhat hushed.  There is only silence in the other room.  Christ sleeps.

 

 

The chill is on the air                (( JOHN

And yet no chill of death.

The world's asleep.

    

(the seated disciples at last recoil)

 

And yet not sleeping.

The Christ's asleep, you'll vouch for that,

You that were just now waking

Into sleep

Till I arrived.

How has it gone?

 

He was too strong for me.        (( ANDREW

No matter

When I try to force him down

He is not my equal

And I suck him in.

There is that about the rock that cannot fuse

With us.

In that he's like the Christ, I wager.

See if you can match him in this game.

 

I've not the spirit.                     (( JOHN

There is something dark out there.

I must confess

I haven't been the same all night,

And we are

Only halfway through by the signs.

Even the sky has something worse than all the stars

That stab it,

A color I have not seen.

The moon is a frightening hue, not blue,

Not green.

Here where we sit it's somewhere in between. 

I'll wake the master.

 

Leave him sleep.                           (( SIMON PETER

There where he's going there is no retreat.

 

I'll take my seat.                           (( JOHN

    

(facing the Christ)

 

We make a handsome company,

Even the lady stroking his sad brow.

If only God would halt

The here and now.

 

How go the others?                      (( ANDREW

 

All but the Zealot in a pit             (( JOHN

Like swine.

They sleep their fish away

In some sad bloat

Of slumber,

Nothing of the Lord's.

You hear them stir and grunt, a sack of stink

To wake the dead

If death were neighbor.

They sleep as if from death by labor.

 

And how is the Zealot?                (( SIMON PETER

I guess he's waiting for some strange

Trumpet in the sky,

Calling the sinful to account.

I guess he's waiting for the scream of judgment.

I guess he is awake.

 

You'll laugh at this account        (( JOHN

If laugh you will.

Somewhere there's laugh enough

When laughing's ill.

He told me on the sly he'd heal

His injured hand.

When the others woke

He'd injure it again.

Can you believe it? 

Such is his faith, he says, far stronger

Than the rest.

The tears are in his eyes from mortal pain,

And yet above us all

He says he's blessed.

If Simon the Zealot cannot will the harm away

He'll have the Christ,

Or have the fingers whole if they were sliced

And separate fed to flames.

He's all for miracles,

That man.

He'd slice them off

And feed them to the flames again.

 

I must swear it disgusts me.        (( ANDREW

 

I too.                                            (( SIMON PETER

 

I fear we are often just as bad.    (( JOHN

'Tis sad.

The wonder is the man that some call God,

The wonder that he breathes and lives.

Not these raw tricks that would startle

All the masses.

Rather the touch of him,

The breath, the voice,

And what it gives.

 

Right on.                                      (( SIMON PETER

 

And even Simon must admit     (( ANDREW

There are those

Who hate his miracles,

Not as an empty show that soils the Sabbath,

But rather that they will the worst

To grasp at straws,

Pervert God's laws and raise the Christ

Above the rest.

'This certain that he's blessed above us all.

 

Cursed, I'd have it.                    (( JOHN

 

Well, cursed then.                      (( ANDREW

Yet, as I was saying, blessed or cursed,

No victor over Caesar,

No general to vanquish those who rape our soil

Or plough our wives,

No prophet to steer us from the pit,

No God to overturn our lives,

A saint we'd all agree on but no king,

If kings are judged by such sad things.  If king

He is a kingdom of the spirit,

A conqueror of greed.

'Tis not with loaves and fishes

He would have us feed.

 

So young and yet so wise.         (( SIMON PETER

 

I'll second that.                          (( JOHN

 

On the whole a noble                 (( SIMON PETER

Assessment.

And yet, on the other hand,

Why do we stay by him even here and now

When fate bears down

To take his life

And even ours in turn

Should this man you would have a king of sorts,

A king of kindness,

Mercy, pity,

A king of all that's quiet,

Should this man drag us with him to his kingdom?

He says I'll found a church.

There is not one among us, Andrew, John,

Who would not have preferred a kingship.

There is that about the man

That would will some imprint on the text

Of history,

Something greater than a footnote.

There is that about us too.

Better to burn in hell

Than to have followed a misspent Jew.

 

To some mockery?                    (( ANDREW

'Tis not enough that I am simply young.

The spikes that pierce might pierce my tongue.

 

Gather your hearts to this.         (( SIMON PETER

We'll find that hell, that mocking!

 

And yet we stick, we stick.       (( JOHN

 

How long?                                (( ANDREW

A truth we cannot fathom in his person

When that person-hood is gone?

Such truth is fragile for the sticking,

Even if the sword should wield.

Our cowardice enough

Is one fit shield.

He's pierced our hearts, we all agree.

He's lanced our brains.

And yet when Christ is gone . . . and yet?

Such that one pierces thinking

With regret.

'Tis not enough

That I am simply young.

The spikes that pierce might pierce my tongue.

 

 

                                                                             CURTAIN

 

 

ACT TWO SCENE FOUR ((((( Christ and Magdalene

 

 

Andrew has replaced James on watch.  The two brothers, James and John, and the principal disciple, Simon Peter, are sleeping on mats before the bench where Jesus and Magdalene are sitting.  Throughout this scene, Mary ministers to the Christ in various allusive gestures.  At no time is there not a tension between the two figures, a sexual attraction, a hostility.  There is a bitterness here in Christ that would will his manhood into an indictment of all that is sensual and human.  The two are, in the end, antagonists, for Christ is an enigma no one will ever understand, and Magdalene is that very lack of understanding, all too human, all too final.

 

 

There is a silence now                 (( CHRIST

   

 (stirring from Magdalene's lap)

 

It seems sinful to break it.

Even my voice would rend the earth

With a simple yawn.

I am fearful of speaking.

The others sleep.

Andrew takes the watch.

I cannot see him.

He takes the watch?

 

The much there is of it.                (( MAGDALENE

We are far past half the night.

I have sat awake, watching you,

Half the watch I need.

At times I touched your hair.

You trembled in your sleep

If it was sleeping.

Jesus, you are a man, be man to me here

While there's time.

This slab is wide enough, in fact,

Even should they stir.

I've had enough of thought and touching.

 

To taste is touch.                          (( THE CHRIST

    

(he turns to touch her face)

 

To touch is feel.

To feel is felt.

And felt is lust.

And I am felt with what I must,

With what I've touched.

Your query touches me, sadly, even here.

   

 (indicating his lap)

 

And yet I must confess, there is nothing

Here up to it.

We are closer than fact.

There is a world at large

That's just a wriggle.

You'd reduce me to that world,

Simply to an act.

Where I am going there will be no copulation.

 

So sad!                                      (( MAGDALENE

If only you knew how sad.

Jesus, were you merely more than

Your Christ-hood.

I think you are.

To me you are.

Even if they rut you to a tree,

Even if you fornicate with spikes,

I'll share your person.

Sweet sad touch!

I'd share your fever AND your mission.

Sad, sad!

That I alone could sense a sweetness

And an urging

This far from the fruit of your lap.

You lack a marriage bed,

You lack a son.

All you've begun is some enactment of your

 Slaughter,

All you've done.

I cannot dread what you have done

But somehow sense

The dying will be larger than your own.

Even in this silence

I can hear them groan,

Those billions rotting from your zeal.

Your corpse is not enough.

The teeth are gnashing on themselves.

It seems in fact your teeth, your touch, your feel.

I fear that final meal.

 

It is not enough to fear.            (( CHRIST

 

What would you have              (( MAGDALENE

Of me?

 

Sheer terror.                             (( CHRIST

Perhaps you may find me lacking.

Perhaps I am simply a man.

Perhaps that is what you will.

Perhaps it is merely flesh that they shall pierce,

Mere flesh and blood

That they shall kill.

There is a strangeness to my thoughts this night.

No small amount of wriggle makes it right.

And what is this here?

    

(she holds his hand to her breast)

 

You're much like Judas,

Yet he would have ME fear.

 

There is not one of us              (( MAGDALENE

That does not love you.

Judas alone would take and eat

What others but revere.

And Magdalene would have you

In some selfsame manner.

This Judas sees your manhood,

Hates your Christ.

The man is pretty when the manhood's sliced.

These other eunuchs are by spirit

Cut to wink.

The juices that boil within YOU leak their way

From what you think.

Just think of me, fairly Christ.

I'll make you boil

For some small hour.

There is honey here.

I'm 23.

Were it not enough I'd gather you

All that's sweet full measure,

Some sweetness from another blossom.

You have the choice of worlds, you know.

And cut it off

And starve the flow.

 

Get thee behind me!                     (( THE CHRIST

    

(the voice is nearly a whine)

 

Christ, that too.                            (( MAGDALENE

 

I have had women.                      (( CHRIST

    

(harshness now, darkness in the voice)

 

I have had men.

They mean nothing to me.

I have had the barest in between

And out and in.

I have had my fill.

It means nothing.

I am not the virgin they would have me be.

In truth, I have had thee.

Countless times.

Doubled, prone, standing.

All the ways your fancy reaches at.

There would be

No surprise.

I have had your eyes.

I have eaten.

I have had Iscariot and all his like.

I have copulated Cosmos,

All the leaks in space.

I have filled them.

I have traced

Each secrecy.

I have suckled boys,

Rutted virgins to full measure.

Had incest itself

Countless times.

Mary, even my father.

I have had all.

Lucifer himself has knelt to me.

I have serviced God.

The holy spirit.

And yet this sex of mine is still untouched.

I've touched it to stars and planets, galaxies,

All that whirls the universe,

Even the dead in hell.

I've had the course

Of fornication.

For you it seems some brave nuance,

Languor, even breath.

I must confess I fear it worse than death

Or what's beyond.

'Tis not enough to eat of paradise.

You'd suckle nectar from a prophet's thighs.

You'd suckle fire.

You'd feed on flesh itself and not desire.

Here, touch me.

What there is of it.

    

(taking her hand to his lap)

 

There are those who'd have me there

And all the death that's with it.

There are those

Who'd eat my leavings just to eat it.

    

(she reaches her fingers to her mouth)

 

The church that Peter founds will surely seek it.

    

(fingers at her mouth)

 

Get thee behind me!

You are steeped in it!

Even your pale beauty eats the ghost.

Get thee behind me, Maggie at the most,

With all your beauty.

Get thee behind me thrice again.

I'd take you in and spit you out again.

 

So be it!  Ah, so be it!              (( MAGDALENE

   

 (kissing her fingers)

 

What God there is of me         (( CHRIST

You cannot

See it.

 

I am alone.                              (( MAGDALENE

 

Even the years ahead will       (( THE CHRIST

Not atone.

Not billions.

You are CAUGHT in Christ.

You are CAUGHT in Christ's transcendence.

You eat him by the hour.

You suck him dry.

You lick his mission.

Sorry the lamb of God and ALL his vision.

Sorry the lamb, the holy ghost.

Grimace by the hour, grin and roast.

You suckle stink, then grin and roast!

ENOUGH, I am alone.

This isolation is NEARLY total, incomplete.

Leave off a while and wash my feet.

 

 

                                                                  CURTAIN

 

 

ACT THREE SCENE ONE ((((( the initial lamentation

 

 

Simon Peter and the two brothers, James and John, accompany the Christ to the center of the stage.  In bright moonlight and the illumination of a lamp held by Peter, the landscape is almost barren, a few shrubs, trees.  Simon Peter sets down the lamp by a large stone, gathers his robes and sits.  John and James take their place by him, leaving Christ to stand.  At last he takes HIS leave, moving off stage left, and out of sight.  The light is a strange mixture of blue and green, texturing the faces of the three disciples like the hue of death.  The lamentation of Christ is punctuated by a running commentary, James, Peter, John.  When the Christ returns, they pretend they sleep.  Here, as in the next two scenes, there is prayer and lamentation, outcry of a man on fire.

 

 

At least we have the night,      (( SIMON PETER

What's left of it,

And are secure enough.

Toward what end he woke us from our slumber

Now reveals.

He hides himself beyond the light.

Pay heed.

Somehow he speaks of us

To his sad God.

There is much to learn

From that great pain.

Listen, he speaks again.

 

I shall not listen.                       (( JOHN

    

(against Christ's distant chant)

 

We violate his privacy

Even to discuss his voice.

He left us here by choice

And not to bargain

With his gestures.

Such voice is the gesture of pain

And not contrition.

'Tis ugly to witness such despair.

The fault's with his ambition.

 

Ambition to die horribly,            (( SIMON PETER

Pierced

To the Roman's tree?

To rot three days and rise again,

A stink?

Ambition were a nobler habitat

Than worms.

He'd have this world in tow and have it quick,

Not dead.

'Tis not the Christ's ambition that I dread.

 

You've seen the light about        (( JAMES

His head.

There is nothing there

That has not transpired in vain.

I'd seek for greed

In that we build his church,

His body for the cornerstone.

Foundation in a corpse.

There is something about him,

Something odder than a kingship.

There is that about his brain and breath.

 

"Blessed are the meek."              (( JOHN

You've heard him utter that to death.

It wasn't pride

That made him speak,

And yet no small ambition.

These final hours he speaks of his contrition.

 

And ours.                                     (( SIMON PETER

 

Then act.                                      (( JAMES

Your poor-in-heart has taken flight.

You've fled him that would found you for a church.

Even the Christ is filled with fright.

Just listen.

There is something in his voice,

An angry pitch.

He prays for hope, I fear.

Such hope is crazed,

Heaving toward another year.

 

Shuddering, dear God,                (( CHRIST

Dear mercy,

    

(the voice now loud enough to distinguish)

 

Waiting for some sense,

A touch of all that's come to be,

Mercy itself in thee,

In thee.

My touch is thee,

A touch of taste, of touch,

Dear Christ of all I taste, I touch,

Tasting and touching me.

God, have mercy

On my curse,

That I would strain for thee!

Christ, have mercy.

God, have mercy.

 

It seems his prayer's on fire.       (( SIMON PETER

 

And yet there is no end               (( JOHN

To his desire.

He burns now toward the last,

That we would quench the spell the man has cast!

'Tis pity, terror,

We should hear.

And yet there's more, I fear!

 

Curse the mouth!                       (( THE CHRIST

Neither north nor south.

Curse the breast!

Neither east nor west.

Curse agony, curse pain.

Teach us to strain and not to strain!

 

'Tis strange, his strain,              (( SIMON PETER

The latter!

What does he speak of, misery or hope?

'Tis strange indeed to hear,

To hear him in this fashion shudder.

And where's the sense

To all this cursing

If he loves the curse?

The God Jehovah gave him birth.

This curse is hardly worth

The whine that it entails.

Procure the nadir, Christ,

When cursing fails.

Your summit is the taste of curse,

An eating of your living,

Touch of the teeth

That print your throat with teeth

And tongue.

Curse death that takes you young,

Curse hope.

Life is the curse that makes you favor death.

Death is the life that comes with breath,

They're coupled so.

Such couplets couple

This brave show.

Just listen to the man!

Give ear to his lament!

There's no sure end to chanting

When the chanted chants.

An ear to his release if curse it must.

If fear gives way to peace the curse is just.

 

Be still!  He starts again.           (( JOHN

Be still, he's ill.

That voice is of the devil, sick of sin.

 

Lord, have mercy!                    (( ALL THREE

 

God, have mercy.                     (( THE CHRIST

    

(in and out of hearing)

 

Christ, have mercy.

Dear Christ, have mercy,

Dear God, dear Lord, have mercy, mercy,

The Christ above, below, below,

This wretched show,

Dear Christ, dear Lord, dear God.

'Tis odd that Christ is God,

'Tis odd.

Mercy to Christ on earth,

The fork that gave him birth,

Dear God above on me,

Dear God on thee, on thee,

Yea though I walk

And would repent,

Dear Lord, forgive my sad lament,

Dear Christ, have mercy

On my soul,

God, hear my call.

And Christ, be Christ in me,

That I might send my prayers to thee.

God, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Dear Christ, have mercy,

Dear God, dear Lord, have mercy mercy . . .

 

I cannot hear that.                        (( SIMON PETER

 

I cannot bear that.                        (( JAMES

 

I cannot share that.                      (( JOHN

 

Nevertheless,                               (( SIMON PETER

There is something about it fits.

 

Wait, he now is quiet.                 (( JOHN

Sleep!  It fits.

Pretend you are asleep,

He's coming back.

Better to bear his censure

Than to know he knows we've heard.

Simon, bear the brunt of his attack.

Better to sleep again

Before the coming.

Better to bear the word.

Better his anger.

Better to bear his heat.

Lie quiet now as death against his heat.

His thoughts will riot

Toward the very end, I fear.

Lie dead, from all his death

There's no retreat.

God, were it easy just to sleep!

 

From all his death                       (( SIMON PETER

There's no retreat.

God, were it easy just to sleep!

 

 

                                                             CURTAIN

 

 

ACT THREE SCENE TWO ((((( the second lamentation

 

 

Christ is again offstage.  Here, as in the previous scene, the chanting, too soft to be distinguished, can be simply nonsense syllables, as if he were speaking in tongues.  As the voice becomes loud enough to make out content, we hear couplets, and at last the bitter prayer of the previous scene.  Again, we begin with commentary from the three disciples who have followed him into the open landscape.  There is now a fire on stage center, where James, John and Simon Peter warm themselves.  Here too, the light is bluish green, even though brighter, a sickly pale over their faces, the cast of death.

 

 

You were right he would            (( SIMON PETER

Chastise us,

Friend John,

That we would sleep

In his hour of need, and yet just too

That even hearing his lamentations

Is too far into his soul

For us to trespass, even his knowing.

Just hear, he rants again,

Even more toward pain,

And soon it will be light.

We have hardly slept this night.

I fear the sleep

That comes will be all the more profound

Than when he quiets.

I fear the sleep itself.

There is death about the master's voice

And in it,

Even this thick haze of light, this fire,

The stars,

More deathly by the minute.

 

Peter, he has said                      (( JAMES

You would betray him.

In truth he is betrayed

And ten times over

Just in the moment when we listen.

The man betrays himself.

That voice we hear

Curses all that he has blessed.

Something in Christ betrays him, something strange

And fearful none of us has seen,

Not Iscariot himself.

Is this his doubt that speaks or ours?

Is it the world's?

Centuries await his faith, I'm well aware.

Of this, his doubt,

We cannot make them share.

Even to hear it reach for faith is bitterness.

As he has said,

The strain is not to strain,

If we have heard him right.

This strain of his is fearful this sad night.

 

'Tis sacrilege to hear                (( JOHN

Him so,

    

(punctuated by cries)

 

As if his willing to be God was just a show,

'Tis fear itself,

This fearful lamentation,

Cursing the brave new year, his God,

The Christ he wills himself to be,

All hope, all pity,

Tenderness and mercy, all that's kind,

As if he's lost all humankind's

Dimensions, reaching for Lucifer, what march

That represents, what truth, what lie.

Fearful enough to hear him cry!

'Tis fear, I say, itself,

A terror,

As if his life's in error,

As if it all's a vast mistake, a curse

That even by it cursing grows far worse,

That seethes like worms

Beneath his skull.

That we would have to listen on

Seems cruel,

We whom he has chosen higher than the rest.

Perhaps this way he puts us to the test.

 

As if he planned it?                  (( SIMON PETER

As if to test our faith?

As if to see our mettle?

Then dance he must, into this circle of light.

I fear 'tis God himself

That's tested here tonight.

That man out there is racked by more

Than simply pain.

The faith that breaks in him

Is larger than a Cosmos, great as the master's

 Heart,

Yet small indeed.

The man's on fire, for God himself's in need.

 

Bless me, Father, I have             (( THE CHRIST

Sinned,

    

(we hear individual words, frenzied)

 

Or curse again the sinning,

The voice that sins to speak

Of sinning this sad night.

Bless, curse, bless,

As such it is the test,

And testing's taken flight

Toward some pale thin

Ambition.

I fear your pity, after all.

I fear myself.

I fear contrition.

Curse, bless, this Christ, I pray.

Perhaps tomorrow brings another.

It seems I make the least

Of this today.

Curse, bless me, curse.

I'm not sure which is worse!

 

There is sense to that,                  (( JAMES

What sense comes through the speech, the cry.

The ache of voice itself is

Harsher than the words that he would try.

But listen!

 

Curse silk and gold.                     (( CHRIST

My corpse grows cold.

Curse riches, kings.

Curse sad things.

Wyclif, Luther, I have heard the names.  Heard word.

All that itches,

All that tames.

The Pope.

That sack of it.

All hope.

That lack of it.

Bless, curse, bless the poor-in-hearted.

Curse the moment that I started.

Curse the moment that I quit.

Curse it.

Curse all that hear.

Curse their fear.

Curse it, curse them.

Curse, bless, curse spirit, God again.

Curse universe, curse me.

Curse pity . . . . . curse it . . . . . curse

   

 (into repetition and silence)

 

What do you make of that?         (( SIMON PETER

 

I think he works too hard            (( JAMES

At cursing.

    

(softly)

 

I think his mind is gone.

In short, I don't know the man.

In short, even his voice is quite strange,

As if someone else were speaking.

In short, I fear for him.

In short, I fear for myself,

Cursed so profoundly,

Almost the depth of it, like some terrible humor.

'Tis more than wit perhaps, mad rumor.

 

Such chatter cannot bear              (( JOHN

Repeating,

As if an ape had taken

Up the very fit of cursing just to raise a face

                                                                 On it,

As if to ape a curse.

'Tis not the curse of God I fear in him,

Rather the brain that bears it.

There's not much left of what we knew to trust.

Be still a bit and see if he will

See us sleeping sound as stone.

If that man sleeps he'll sleep alone.

'Tis not enough we see him broken.

The man that breaks him is the man that's spoken.

 

God, have mercy.                        (( THE CHRIST

    

(louder, frenzied)

 

Christ, have mercy.

Dear Christ, have mercy,

Dear God, dear Lord, have mercy, mercy,

The Christ above, below, below,

This wretched show,

Dear Christ, dear Lord, dear God.

'Tis odd that Christ is God,

'Tis odd.

Mercy to Christ on earth,

The fork that gave him birth,

Dear God above on me,

Dear God on thee, on thee,

Yea though I walk

And would repent,

Dear Lord, forgive my sad lament,

Dear Christ, have mercy

On my soul,

God hear my call.

And Christ, be Christ in me,

That I might send my prayers to thee.

God, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Dear Christ, have mercy,

Dear God, dear Lord, have mercy mercy . . .

 

Hush now, he finds his way     (( SIMON PETER

To us.

'Tis sad to hear him thus

But sadder still that he would know it.

That we would know it better.

Some future age is soundly cursed.

He'd thrash Jehovah

And implore forgiveness.

There's madness once and then the man is sound.

There have been times like this

Yet not so touching,

Livid.

Christ there is of him nearly to the point

   Of terror.

'Tis not our fault

That we should live an error.

'Tis not our fault

That we are for the cursing marked.

He chases

His own tail.

There is that of his pale pain.

He barks his dog and chases round again.

 

 

                                                                   CURTAIN

 

 

ACT THREE SCENE THREE ((((( a final lamentation

 

 

Christ chants again offstage.  The three disciples, Simon Peter, James, and John, lie on the earth about their fire.  Their commentary continues.  The light is a bit brighter and yet still casts a strange hue on their figures.  Shortly, Philip appears stage right, whirling into the glow of the fire and past, spinning his sword in a rather inappropriate flourish which at first startles the other three but is unnoticed by Christ offstage, who continues his lamentations uninterrupted.  At last Philip, standing, discusses what they are hearing with his three friends.  The scene moves rapidly toward the betrayal through commentary, chant, anticipation, concludes with Christ's last prayer at Gethsemane, with the reaction of the four who are there to witness it.  They only mirror his doubt.  Christ enters.  Even with the betrayal close at hand, there is a greater death in his face, the death of his faith, the death of his God, the death of death.

 

 

Somehow it seems we are            (( JOHN

Free of him,

    

(against the distant chant)

 

The Christ we came to know.

There is little left in this sad show,

This mockery

That curses all it's blessed

And us again for sleeping,

Willing ourselves to sleep, as it were,

As if we'd sleep through torture,

Such misgivings,

That agony of doubt

That wills a savior toward some cowardice,

Unmanly weeping,

A son perhaps, but not a son of God,

The offspring of a virgin,

Rather some bitch's issue,

A bastardry,

That which would nail us to some stake

Of bitch's making

Just for loving,

Following his queer progress toward this estate,

This garden,

At last to hear his wail,

To hear him thus,

A mockery of will.

It seems his mind's not well.

'Tis not enough, his spirit's will.

God, that I cease that sad lament, that fiercest

Cry,

Or ceasing cease to try.

God, that I could not will him to be half his past,

That what remains would cease to last.

 

I must confess it troubles             (( SIMON PETER

Me,

Even the core of my stout faith.

The man's a shadow

Of his self

And parodies his mission.

It seems he spews some vestige of his vision.

    

(Philip whirling into the light)

 

But what is that, our doom?

    

(they recoil from the sight)

 

'Tis merely Philip, aping             (( JOHN

A dervish.

 

Some mad centurion,                   (( JAMES

Some Roman whore.

Come, Philip,

Send us more this night.

Our wits have taken flight with your great master.

Come sit a bit

And share this fire

And what you hear beyond the light.

Come sit or stand.

You'll hear your full of what would try your hand

To cease the aching,

Even the Christ himself, what's left of him.

Come here, the sitting's grim.

Make what you can of standing.

Sheath that sword or whet it on the stars.

What light they cast contends

With our pale fire.

Even the moon would search for scars

On this foul planet,

Illuminate an ugliness vexed as a harlot's teeth.

There where she's chewing is our Lord.

You'll hear their gnash, be still.

She bears her fangs and takes her fill.

Be still, the eating's ill.

He says he'd pass the cup if given leave.

There's more to it than grief.

He bows to a greater master than his own

And roots about to some fierce will

That shatters our belief,

Sniffs in the dirt and groans that faith is wanting.

'Tis nearly comic.

The laughter's chronic.

He roars himself to death,

And roars again and sucks in breath.

 

You swear that is the Christ?   (( PHILIP

    

(against the lamentation)

 

Our solemn oath.                     (( SIMON PETER

 

It seems a parody of faith,       (( PHILIP

And yet I lack all faith in it.

'Tis better to disbelieve,

That such that made us dazzled by his joy

Should come to this.

As if the lips that kiss would turn a canker.

Lips hiss.  That it should come to this!

 

He's taken up with hissing.     (( JOHN

He curses all he's made for blessing.

Curses the holy spirit.

Fit for torture at his Father's hands,

Raises high screeches

Toward that jagged mouth in space,

That hook that looks on him,

On us,

Even on our sadness.

In time he'll return.

You'll see the ravage on his ravaged face.

 

Be still a bit.                             (( SIMON PETER

Perhaps his faith will turn.

My heart is in this fire,

Willing his faith to turn.

Be still, I will his heart to turn.

 

The Lord is my shepherd.       (( THE CHRIST

The Lord is.

Christ is,  God is.

I shall not want.

I shall not want thee for long

Yea though I walk.

I shall not walk.

Through the valley.

Through the shadow.

Through the valley of the shadow of death.

My breath is death.

I fear no evil.

It all is evil.

Comfort thee.

My thee is free.

Thy rod is thee.

Thy rod is free.

It comforts thee.

Thou anointeth my head with oil.

My head in oil.

'Tis death, my breath, my head in oil, on fire,

Simply for thee.

My rod is thee.

Comfort.

Cup runneth over.

Comfort.

The Lord is my shepherd.

I shall not want him for long.

Dear Lord, hear my cry.

Let your staff pass me by.

Let this cup pass.

Lift this cup,

Yet will I sup,

Suck bile and tears till down is up.

 

Most strange, he apes                  (( PHILIP

A Psalm!

 

Hear on.                                       (( JOHN

 

God, have mercy.                        (( THE CHRIST

    

(wailing now, in and out of sense)

 

Christ, have mercy.

Dear Christ have mercy,

Dear God, dear Lord, have mercy, mercy,

The Christ above, below, below,

This wretched show,

Dear Christ, dear Lord, dear God.

'Tis odd that Christ is God,

'Tis odd.

Mercy to Christ on earth,

The fork that gave him birth,

Dear God above on me,

Dear God on thee, on thee,

Yeah though I walk

And would repent,

Dear Lord, forgive my sad lament,

Dear Christ, have mercy

On my soul,

God hear my call.

And Christ, be Christ in me,

That I might send my prayers to thee.

God, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Dear Christ, have mercy,

Dear God, dear Lord, have mercy mercy . . .

 

'Tis past bearing.                         (( PHILIP

 

Listen!  Over there.                     (( JAMES

Something beyond him.

 

I fear that troops approach.         (( SIMON PETER

Perhaps he fears it.

Perhaps he hears it.

Philip, cut the night.

Your sword's the measure of our fright,

'Tis sword alone.

God have mercy.

Dear Christ, have mercy.

Listen, indeed!

That sound is greater than his death.

That we should share but share our care.

Even the Lord's betrayal is a prayer.

Kiss death, Philip.

Kiss!

Never to know that it should end like this!

    

(Christ enters, haggard, trembling)

 

Get up!                                       (( THE CHRIST

Let us go!

My betrayer is already

Close at hand!

Get up.

Call the others!

Yet if they flee,

They flee their brothers.

    

(hissing)

 

Kiss death, Jesus!

Kiss!

Never to know that it would end like this!

 

 

                                                                                    CURTAIN

 

 

ACT THREE SCENE FOUR ((((( the betrayal

 

 

Judas appears with twelve men armed with clubs and swords.  At this point Christ is surrounded by the two brothers, James and John, and by Simon Peter.  Philip is briefly offstage.  He returns with the other James.  During the entire proceedings other disciples enter, until they are all onstage, including Magdalene.  All but Philip stand, however, at the edge of the action.  The soldiers and Christ are center stage, as well as Philip, who attacks one of the elders' men with a sword.  The sequence of kiss, laying of hands on the Christ, and preparation to take him to his death, is completed by Christ's final monologue, which, even in its agony, contrasts with the three lamentations by its manly strength, its gentle final resolve.

 

 

Philip will                                  (( SIMON PETER

    

(at the sound of men marching in rhythm)

 

Bring the others.  I fear it is too late.

We are only two swords against them.

 

It is not too late to flee,             (( JAMES

Dear Christ,

And hardly unmanly,

More prudence than fright.

But here they come.  It is nearly light.

 

Greetings, Rabbi!                      (( JUDAS

   

 (entering with the twelve armed men)

 

My friend, do what you            (( CHRIST

Are here for.

    

(Judas, with effeminate gestures, kisses him)

 

And you, these strangers to our hearth,

This fire that burns itself

Toward death,

Do what you will.

The sight of all these weapons makes me ill.

Do what you will.

    

(they converge on him; Philip strikes)

 

Put down your sword, dear Philip,

Let them be.

If living by the sword, you die by it.

Only the truth can make me free,

If truth will have it.

The freedom that I seek

Is surely elsewhere,

Far from these clubs and swords.

There is the prophecy

To fill.

Not twelve legions at my defense,

The angels ranging through this galaxy,

Can hinder or hasten one tenth

Of it, even the slightest taste of death,

However it is drawn.

'Tis true that what they will will take me on

And yet that I might persist.

A billion years may pass before

I'm truly gone.

Yet gone from here I am.

There where I preached in the Temple

Were it light to take my freedom.

They never laid hands on me.

'Tis nearly parody of force to take me here

Where even the Twelve retreat

At last in fear.

See where they stand?

I can forgive them.

It is their souls, not lives, that I demand,

Though giving of the soul,

The life might perish.

These teeth tonight that feed!

The flesh they bleed!

 

Enough of these fine                    (( ONE OF THE GUARDS

Speeches.                                         

    

(stepping forward to take command)

 

Save your words for Pilate.

You'll find the Romans fitter audience

For all your sacrilege.

You'll find the priests.

This friend of yours

    

(indicating Judas)

 

Swears you are the one whose impudence

Would call the stars to melt

In some fine mute adoration,

The moon to lose its grip on the waning

                                                                 Night

And cleanse a kingdom,

Even the coming sun to swoon

As if to complete you,

Complete your task,

As if all this whirling universe

Were at your beck and call,

All that your seeming had to ask,

Yet seeming it is

And hardly fact.

If fact you'd act!

Let's get to the business here at hand,

My friends, rude and simple,

Harsher than the fineness of this prophet

Wearing his rags like raiment.

Let's closer to it.

If fact he'd act.

This melting night, I see no angels hastening

Through it!

Just one rude oaf that scarred an ear.

If this is God, God's not to fear!

 

I had not bargained                      (( JUDAS

For your torment.

    

(his robe is the finest of the Twelve)

 

Respect the man.

If harm he's done 'tis to the statutes,

Not your pride.

He must possess his dignity even captive.

That much you promised me.

Were it different I had died.

Come now, no hands on him that willed himself

 A savior.

I cannot will it thus, no matter his behavior.

No hands!

I said he'd come without a struggle.

'Tis obvious truth.

These men of yours are bearing off his pride.

No hands!

 

You've earned your silver,       (( ANOTHER OF THE GUARDS

Plain Iscariot.                                

There is nothing left that needs you,

Take your leave.

This voice of yours that seems somehow to grieve!

Come, all of you,

Hence with the night that barely

Grips this garden,

There the last of it sinking with the coals

Of the deadening fire,

There vanish.

We have no quarrel with fools

That ape the fool of some sad prince as this.

The harm is null.

Be off!

Hence, save yourselves.

A grander troop will soon arrive and more.

Be settled with my kindness,

Rest content and hence.

Here, Jesus, have them off.

The Christ that's left of you, that ever was,

Display some sense.

Come, be mercy.

 

I'd say that mercy                    (( JUDAS

Is a whore!   

   

 (aside, as he walks into the wings)

 

Farewell, Jesus, that you         (( SIMON PETER

Are,

We won't forget you!

    

(he departs with the rest; only Christ and the armed men remain onstage)

 

Such is a bold forgetting!        (( A GUARD

 

Even for me, 'tis ugly             (( ANOTHER

To watch.

 

Had you words for them         (( THE GUARD IN COMMAND

Perhaps                                       

They would have waited.

This night was easy

Business.

I have hardly earned a corporal's pay

This mild struggle.

At most we lost an ear.

And yet they may bring others.

We should be off.

Even so, the natural order will hold.

I'm just that sure of it.

These friends of yours are hardly bold.

Strange as it might be,

I'd trade your Judas for the pack of them.

Woman that he was

He had the strength to betray you.

That's one sure action.

All that other company wills itself

Simply to retreat.

 

Captain, we should be off!         (( ANOTHER GUARD

There is something waiting           

Past this breaking night.

Even your wisdom can't be sure

They've taken flight

And will forget we take him.

Even so, this business of ours,

It fears the dawn.

    

(Judas emerges from the wings)

 

There's one, the one that kissed him, isn't gone.

'Tis such, we should move on.

 

Here, Rabbi!                                (( THE GUARD IN COMMAND

'Tis nearly light.                             

Have you something for that man

That passes silver?

Perhaps another kiss

That he would kiss you, come to this?

A word of thanks perhaps.

 

Judas has seen my like before     (( THE CHRIST

    

(the voice is calm and deliberate)

 

And will again,

If not this life another.

I am not without coming

And will be for lives to come,

Even when the Christ I've taken comes

To dust.

As such, I must

Forgive him most of all,

For without his like the world would fail,

Fall in on itself

Of some sad weight,

A lack of texturing that I would give him,

Even Judas himself would give him,

Grand Jehovah.

I am nothing but his body and his tears.

I have been nothing else

Over these brief years.

We are together, Judas, Christ, Jehovah God,

Even the Spirit.

There is nothing to fear in fear.

There is no torment

That is not devised to enrich him.

I speak of God.

We are never without him in our joys.

We are his agony, the body

He employs, vehicle of pain and loathing.

Nothing we make or live cannot increase him.

The Christ that suffers at your hands

Is simply Judas.

There is nothing to forgive or pity.

We move toward Christ,

Not one of us forgotten,

Neither the stab nor kiss, for either

   Is his heart,

His blood, his message for the making.

There is nothing on this fierce earth that isn't

   God.

'Tis odd but God is God

Even when we crown his head with thorns, the crown,

The hands

That fashion crown, the deed, the maker.

We are God's fullness, neither ended

Nor begun.

Beyond this world we breathe as one.

I am enough of pain when pain has passed.

Such must it last while my words comfort me.

Dear Christ, let my works comfort thee!

Judas is God.

You'll never understand.

We act him out at his demand.

When will they come to understand?

We act you out at your command.

There is something waiting, even beyond the Cross.

What seeks this time is never lost!

Amen!  I'll add at last amen!

    

(exit all, even Judas)

 

                                      CURTAIN

 

                               FINIS         

 

 

                                                         1985