and a good friday was had by all
You men there, keep those women back
and God Almighty he laid down
on the crossed timber and old Silenus
my offsider looked at me as if to say
nice work for soldiers, your mind’s not your own
once you sign that dotted line Ave Caesar
and all that malarkey Imperator Rex
well this Nazarene
didn’t make it any easier
really—not like the ones
who kick up a fuss so you can
do your block and take it out on them
held the spikes steady and I let fly
with the sledge-hammer, not looking
on the downswing trying hard not to hear
over the women’s wailing the bones give way
the iron shocking the dumb wood.
Orders is orders, I said after it was over
nothing personal you understand—we had a
drill-sergeant once thought he was God but he wasn’t
a patch on you
then we hauled on the ropes
and he rose in the hot air
like a diver just leaving the springboard, arms spread
so it seemed
over the whole damned creation
over the big men who must have had it in for him
and the curious ones who’ll watch anything if it’s free
with only the usual women caring anywhere
and a blind man in tears.
– Bruce Dawe
from Condolences of the Season (Melbourne, Longman Cheshire, 1971)
I usually like to give you variety and not feature the same poet too soon, but when I prepared my piece on Bruce Dawe for ‘The Living Dead’ last week, I couldn’t help noticing this Good Friday poem – another of his many unforgettable poems – in perfect timing for this week.
Yes, Dawe was a Christian, having converted to Catholicism in adulthood. Even for those of us, in this international community, who don’t celebrate Easter – and for those who do, but as a much older, seasonal event – the story of Jesus is well-known. I think we can all acknowledge that it is at the very least a powerful and moving story.
I like Dawe’s different take on it, presenting the Crucifixion through the anonymous narrator’s casual, almost indifferent brutality. The voice is so normal-sounding, it underlines the horror – and perhaps the complicity of all humanity.
Indeed, this is an era when we confront, in many ways, our mass responsibility for evils and tragedies. We can’t, any longer, easily deny the causative effects of inertia, wilful blindness, love of comfort, etc. In our present global crisis, with the spread of COVID-19, we at least have to acknowledge our mutual responsibility for dealing with it, even if we feel blameless that it happened. It is perhaps not so different for Christian believers who are asked to respond personally to the implications of the Crucifixion.
So you can see why I put this one with the Thought Provokers.
I'm also glad to show you a different Dawe 'voice' from the previous post, and one more characteristic of him. As I said to Rommy in last week's comments, I wish I could show you his wonderful humour too – but it is so grounded in the Australian vernacular, I fear you just wouldn't get it. But you could try this one, which I featured in 'I Wish I'd Written This' at Poets United long ago – the humour making some very serious points.
For more on Bruce Dawe, see last Friday's post if you happened to miss it.
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