Page the Second


A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Monday, March 28, 2016


I've been writing poems for next month--for the days on which I can't (or don't) write. I'll be away in Ireland for part of that time and can't wait to show you pictures.

But for today, in honor of Easter, I wanted to put out a small chunk of MARIN AT THE WELL
I stood there on that wind-blasted hill with Martha and the other Marys. Martha had her arms around Jesus' mother, so I had no idea what to do with my hands. It was like they weren't even attached to my body anymore. And then the Romans started hammering in the nails and suddenly I felt my hands again. I felt every single pound of that mallet. The agony arced through my body as Jesus cried out. Why? Why did they have to be so cruel? What had that most blessed of all Men ever done to them, besides change everything about their world?

Martha gave a little scream every time the hammer thudded down. She felt it too.

And Mary, His mother.

I couldn't imagine how she could stand there without passing out. Did she know her Son would rise again the third day? I inched closer and whispered, “Remember what He said?”

She sniffed and turned her head to look me in the eyes. Hers swam with pain. “Which thing?”

“That He'd rise again the third day. I think it was something about building the temple.”

“That's what He meant? That he would—?”

I nodded, a tiny bit cheered by the look of hope that now shared space in her eyes with the fear and anguish.

“Bless you, Mary. You are like one of my own daughters. I know He loves you and your sister.”

I nodded again, unable to speak around the giant stone in my throat.

Then they lifted Him up and the cross thudded into the waiting hole with a sickening, stomach-jarring crunch. My knees buckled and I fell hard on them. The blood drained from my head as darkness closed in. I shook myself, not wanting to let the storm have me. And then wishing I had.

I stared up at my dying Friend. He was so much more than just my Best Friend. He hung there on those cruel nails, every minute pulling further through his tendons and muscles. The agony leaked out of every pore and yanked his body taut and limp by turns. The rank smell of death permeated the very rocks on that hill, filling my nose and mind with hopelessness and regret.

Although I knew the main suffering had already happened up in Gethsemane, I was right there on Golgotha. It was more immediate—more etched into my heart and soul. I couldn't help but think that so many of the things I'd carelessly done had put Him there; all those times I'd picked on Sister Minton; every time I'd turned down doing service projects in Mutual because I thought they were lame and boring; all the times I'd yelled at my mom or bailed on chores or grumbled about my dad. I'd been so selfish. Everything had revolved around what was fun for me, or who was cute, or who I wanted to flame. A lump the size of a melon filled my throat and would hardly let me breathe.

I'm so sorry, I wanted to say before it was too late. So extremely sorry for the way I've acted. Please forgive me and let me start again. I know it's big. I feel as though there's a gargantuan stone in my chest where everything bad I've ever done just sits, weighing me down. I don't want it anymore, but I also don't want to have to dump it on You. I don't want to hurt You. And I have no right to ask, but could You take it and fill that hole with something else?

Jesus didn't say anything, but I saw Him gazing in my direction. Infinite kindness shone from His eyes, those wonderful, light-filled windows, those all-knowing orbs etched forever in my mind. Strangely, I felt comfort wrap around me a little, which made me cry harder. He was the one who needed comforting, not me. I still had to pay as much as I could for everything I'd done.

He understood.

It started to rain. The clouds had drawn together like curtains over Jesus' last hours on Golgotha. I looked up through the falling droplets, not caring about the chill I felt through my soon sodden robes. I saw Him look at me, the misery etching his face. But in that moment, despite his pain-wracked body, he gave me the slightest of smiles. I knew that smile was for me, me—Marin. I felt that gaze embedding forgiveness and love and understanding and a strange sort of joy deep inside my soul. Oh how I wanted to pull that cross down and carefully yank out the nails. I wanted to take Him in my arms and rock Him like a baby.

But I couldn't.

Everything must happen the way it was supposed to.

Jesus would give up His life willingly, though He could have stricken any of the soldiers dead and escaped. And somehow we'd all make our way to Joseph's lonely garden tomb.

I looked over at Mary the Magdalene and Jesus' mother, kneeling to my right with James supporting her. Heartbreak showed in every line of His mother's face, but also a calm watchfulness. She knew her child and His divine legacy. She knew His Father. Jesus had said He would rise in three days. She knew it was true. And now I, too, felt it down in the middle of my soul.
 Jesus cleared his parched throat and called down to James to take care of His mother. I knew we'd all do that. I would, if I stayed. 

I glanced over at Marco, standing with the other soldiers. His glance snagged on mine. He, too, was in agony. He'd had to stand there holding the nails as the other soldiers drove them in. His face had scrunched up with every beat of the hammer. I saw him look down at the nails in his hand. He nearly quit right then. I saw him start to go for the buckles that secured his breastplate. He looked up at me and I shook my head slightly, trying to make my eyes project the fear I felt for him. If the other soldiers saw him, they'd report him and he'd hang too. Or something. Those Romans really got into their punishments. 

In the middle of worrying for Marco, and for Jesus, I stopped, my sight honing in on Marco's handful of nails. 

Why had God sent us there? 

Why were Marco di Cortino and Marin Peregrin standing on the hill of Golgotha? I couldn't quite get it, but there had to be a reason. I had to stop letting grief and anger keep me from finding the answer to that suddenly very important question.

Octavius Portus, Marcus' new centurion, stood off to the side for a moment surveying the situation. I watched him size Marco up and down. A lift of his lip warned me Marco hadn't fared well. “Legio Marcus, the prisoner wants for drink. Since you seem to be His cupbearer, give him sup.”

Marco's jaw muscles clenched as he wet a sponge in the vinegar, stuck the sponge on his pilum, and held it up to Jesus' lips. I gagged. Jesus took one taste and refused it.

Martha whispered, “Vinegar is a kindness. It dulls the pain a little.” 

I nodded, not so disgusted for Marco, who, stone-faced, took up his spear and stood guard with his back to the cross. Octavius backed away and turned his eye on someone else.

The Romans had gotten up a dice game for Jesus' robe. They laughed and joked and teased Marco about being tense, but he wouldn't play. His jaw tightened as he fingered his gladius. Only I could tell that he wanted to throw it down with a clang, and bolt. I couldn't even offer Jesus a decent drink of water. The soldiers wouldn't let us up there. I couldn't bear to watch as the shudders took Him.

A couple of the chief priests trudged up the hill and stood there for a moment. “He saved others. Himself He cannot save,” one of them said to the other, his mocking voice loud above the wind. The other priest laughed and pointed, whispering something in his friend's ear. 

The mocker laughed. “If He be King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross and we will believe Him.”

The other sneered. “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him. For He said, 'I am the Son of God.'”

“If you are Christ,” the thief on Jesus' left said, his voice thin and whiny. I could barely hear it. “Save Yourself and us.”

I missed the other thief's words and Christ's to him. The moaning storm had picked up, whipping our robes and veils, winding them around us as if we stood in the center of a vortex. The Hill smelled of old blood, sweat, and a hint of ozone. 

And death. 

How many other poor innocent people had they dragged up there to gasp out their final breaths? I felt their souls huddled around me, waiting, as I did.

I barely heard His voice above the keening of the wind. “It is finished,” He said. I would have died to hear His stories just one more time, told in that infinitely gentle voice that soothed away the fears. But no more.

When the gale slammed against us, plastering my veil to my face, and sheet lightning tore through the sky, I knew what had happened. I could feel the thunder crashing, right up through the ground and into my gut. It made us jump and Martha stumbled into me. I caught her and we tried to keep our footing, but couldn't. We fell to our knees. Pebbles skittered down from the hill, which was in motion. Earthquakes shook the hills of Galilea.

The King of the World had gone home.
© 2016 by H. Linn Murphy

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