Monday, 14 April 2014

Bruce Dawe - and Easter poems

Easter is approaching and I’m thinking, who are the Christian or religious poets among my favourites?  I think poetry, by its nature leads one to reflect on life and the spiritual nature of things – nearly every poet I’ve read has dealt with the subject in some way as part of their work, pondering on God and the meaning of life.  But in the Christian calendar, Easter is not a time for questioning.  It is a time for knowing that Jesus died in a brutal, human flesh manner that perhaps only affords acceptance through it being seen as a willing and necessary sacrifice.  That’s why I like this poem on the crucifixion written by Bruce Dawe, ‘and a good friday was had by all’.  To me, Bruce Dawe has a way of writing cleverly for the common man – conversational language that puts you right there with Jesus and the soldiers as they are nailing him to the cross.  Sometimes it’s helpful to reflect on things as we know them from the world of our own experience in order to progress to the unknown, or things we don’t understand.  Dawe’s poem looks at it through the eyes of the common soldier doing his duty – he doesn’t like it, but he’s ‘signed the dotted line’ and has got to trust that the ‘big men’ know what they are doing.

and a good friday was had by all
(Bruce Dawe, 1930 -)
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.

The times I read, and a good friday was had by all, I find myself reflecting on the words the soldier addressed to Jesus, “orders is orders ……… nothing personal you understand – we had a drill-sergeant once thought he was God but he wasn’t a patch on you ………”  They are a soldier’s words spoken honestly and show no hatred or malice, spoken man to man, with a tough admiration.  I can’t help but feel that Jesus would have blessed those words.

In my poem, I also reflect on the act of Jesus’ crucifixion.  I had a whole day to reflect – hiking with my family on a Good Friday.  The content was running through my head as we struggled over alpine hiking trails.  At the end of the day I just wrote what I had thought and felt – very quick poem, capture it like a dream.  One day I may come back to polish it – but maybe it is as it is ………. happy Easter.

2012.  We travel down to Thredbo and stay at the Navy ski lodge for the Easter weekend. None of us attend church service, but I know these mountains and alpine region won’t let you off that easy from celebration and worship.
Good Friday on the Main Range
Under the shower,
this is Good Friday,
our Lord would be
being whipped and scourged,
a long night of no sleep.
I make the first cut
on our leg of ham (sandwiches),
the Jews didn’t eat pork,
forbade it
because it was prone
to be full of disease and parasites,
another social rule
enforced by religion.
good friday,
what will the people say,
when they see us eating ham?
I’m ready, keen
to get around to Charlotte Pass
and our walk on the Main Range,
for some reason, Matthew
drags the chain,
deliberate protest against authority?
Jesus pissed the authorities off,
why would he do that?
Didn’t he expect they’d kill him?
Sitting, waiting,
whatever happened to authority?
Now, collaborative decision making
means everybody’s guilty.
We’re finally started,
carrying jackets and thermals.
They’d be nailing Jesus
to the cross now,
hauling him up
to hang in the air,
physical exertion begins
on our Mount Calvary,
climbing out
of the Snowy River valley,
my heart is beating too fast.
Jesus’s heart,
his physical heart,
the heart of Jesus,
essence of Jesus,
they say it takes hours and hours
for a person to die from crucifixion,
we’ve only just begun.
Up, we seem to be ever
climbing up,
clouds blacken in anger
beyond us.
For a people of signs,
it’s a wonder they never saw
the signs.
Out on the range
there’s no protection from the wind,
it howls and stabs,
deliberate and horizontal
at our bodies,
we’re walking in cloud
being shredded and re-formed
over tough alpine plants,
giving no illusion
that death in these parts
could be very close at hand.
The women, the women
at the foot of the cross,
would be howling
and wailing by now, how long
will they have to wait
and watch?
We know it’s another three hours,
one hour to Kosciosko,
two to Seaman’s hut.
as bowed monks
strung out,
along the road
to salvation.
The road’s a brown line
drawing the eye away
to creek crossings
and snow depth markers,
each at 25 metres
set to leaning angles,
like crucifixion poles.
They could crucify hundreds here,
the Romans used to do that,
line the roads and leave them.
These they had to get down
before sunset,
so they broke the legs
of the thieves
and stuck a spear
in Jesus’ side.
Surprisingly, devout hikers
armed with light camping gear,
pass us going out.
It’s Good Friday.
We have witnessed,
the devil’s fury
will have no mercy
here tonight.
                             J. O. White

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