11 April 2020

Holy Saturday. The Place of the Skull [guest post by Ruth Harrison]


[One of my favorite poems; written by Ruth Harrison and especially appropriate on this day]
Holy Saturday. The Place of the Skull

Yet dare I’ almost be glad I do not see
   That spectacle
   –John Donne, “Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward”

Innocent wood … you knew one grand design:
Growing in grain—your fibered cells align
By laws you followed as an absolute
From high and wind-scarred bough to your dark root—
Crossroad for birds, you were—a shade, a lee…
How is it now, to be the morning tree?

Was it chance chose you out from all the rest?
Or a divine election: Here’s the best,
Higher than all, and sound, and straight in grain,
Easy to hew, to shape with adz and plane
(Squirrels fled in the fallen leaf, and mice
Deserted nests under trampling feet). Once— twice

The ax bit through your side, and sap ran warm
In April air. It seemed a Friday storm
That shook your limbs and pierced your living heart
Until your self gave way and fell. No art
Could then undo the breaking. Were you bred
To host the one we followed, and were fed—?

What is it now that stains each empty arm
Darker than pitch, that marks you cruciform?
I will not ask the way you came.  I saw,
Followed the stumbling steps, the judgment raw
Upon his head, all caught in thorny crown;
I watched us all skulk off, saw him fall down.

I said I didn’t know him. That was true—
I knew a man with answers, someone who
Pulled fish out of the air, handed out bread
From empty sleeves until the thousands fed,
Healed blindness, mocked the money-men—and I
Believed Him when he said we wouldn’t die.

Died like a thief, he did, a common clod…
Now, tree, who’d look at you, and think him God
Whose God forsook him, left him drinking gall
And didn’t crook a finger to forestall
The crumbling Kingdom—and the borrowed tomb…
Is this the mustard seed … the life to come?

And what wings hover now above you, tree,
Against the empty sky, where God should be?
No bird would seek to nest and shelter yet
In your bare arms’ Golgotha. He’d forget
Whatever song he knows upon your rack
Feeling a dead man always at his back.

I couldn’t watch the end—hid like a fish
Brushed by the net … Sheol! I only wish
I’d kept the ear I took! I can’t believe
The story’s dead … There’ll come a time to grieve…
He named me Rock— hah. Well, I’m turned to stone—
One more of his illusions overthrown.

Tree … that you still were living, giving shade
To something more than ants. —I am afraid.
Whoever seeks you now looks for another—
And I am marrow-cold— cannot think further
Than that tomorrow’s dead, that yesterday
Killed hope, killed promise of a finer way.

With boat, with net and sea I could have striven…
To what cruel use men shape the world that’s given.

The Life he promised, tree, is all undone …
How is it now to be the Chosen One?

                                                   —Ruth Harrison
[From How Singular and Fine, © 2012. Used by permission]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This is a good day of it, a reminder not lost in the bunnies and eggs. Thanks! rah

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