You know what? Here is a whole series. It is nearly Easter, right?

The Kiss

After the loaded quiet in the garden, there were faces,
Red and sweaty, lit by flame. You listened
To them coming for you, wielding their torches
And swords, led by a man bought by silver,
Enough to refurbish the temple, sold for blood.
You could hear them over the healing

Patter of your awakened disciples who asked you to heal
Their weakened flesh so that they could face
The night with you, be alert in their blood,
Never knowing that you were distracted, listening
For the feet of the men who would slay you, they are silver-
Painted in the moonlight, sweat dripping from torch-

Heated skin. You tried to set a fire in their hearts, torch
Their false self righteousness. You wanted to heal
Their hidden wounds, the places base silver
Could not touch. You would have taken his face
In your hands, kissed him gently, listened
To his poisonous words and removed the bile from his blood.

Instead, he comes, as he was meant to, hungry for your blood,
To splash it out on a skull-named stone. The torches
Are visible now, glowing in the groved olives. Listen.
You can hear the footsteps. Your healing
Hands are by your sides and you’ve composed your face,
For them, the man who could not be bought with silver,

They are the good men to whom silver
Means nothing. Time is funny now, moving blood-
Slow, as slow as a congealing incision. Their faces
Are showing through the trees. Peter has seen the torches,
He draws his sword and makes a wound for you to heal.
The soldiers ear falls to the ground, severed. Listen.

There is silence. Shock. They will listen
If you speak now. Say something about swords, silver-
Glinting in the moonlight, they can never heal
Anything. You pick up the ear, like dried fruit, blood
Still wet, you put it back where it was. Iscariot comes into the torch-
Light. He pulls you close, whispers something, kisses your face.

The sweaty, torch-lit faces around you are silent,
For a moment, moving when the healing was done, and the blood
Flowed in the silver light. Listen. Listen. It is finished.


The criminal walked between us on the road,
With little provocation. He carried the cross
That slipped across his lacerations where the flesh fell, veil-
Like, exposing the muscles underneath, tearing
Visibly. I was impressed by this, usually they try to cut
And run at any opportunity. Maybe he’d lost too much blood

To have any go left, but he was walking well in spite of the blood,
Stumbling only occasionally. On this rough road,
Where even rested horses stumble, it was impressive. The thorn-cuts
On his forehead, someone’s sick joke, crossed
Out any of the original contempt I would have felt. The tears
Of the women trailing us didn’t hurt, their veils

Muffled the sight of them, their vision, not the sound. The veiled
Woman swooning in the heat, with elderly hands, supported by a youth was blood,
Most likely. The criminal’s mother, or aunt, something. Her voice was tear-
Clogged but mature, ululating. They kept pace with us on the road.
Admirably so, I thought, considering. The top cross-
Bar of the crucifix was visibly wearing him down, more than the beatings, cutting

Into his flayed shoulder, the tattered skin. His fingers were rimmed with small cuts
From Jupiter knows what, not providing much grip, tips slipping. I veiled
My eyes from the high sun, midday light making me cross.
And really, I’m all for games, but he’d lost so much blood
Already, he’d probably bleed out walking this road
If Aeschylus did not, inevitably, tear

The barbed flail across his back, always careful not to tear
The badly-dyed robe the criminal wore, wanting his cut
Of the money we’d get after, when we’d take it down the narrow back road
To the rag shop. It wasn’t of very high quality, no dainty veil
For some rich senator, but the colour was almost blood-
Purple, scab shaded, saleable, and his partners, me included, would be cross

If he destroyed it on the journey. The weight of the cross-
Beam had rucked the fabric down around his waist, un-torn
So far, though blood-stained. That could come out. He was sweating and blood
Mixed with it on his face, a thin veneer of red from cuts
Along his hair-line. I allowed a shop-woman to come close with her veil,
The corner of it, remaining modest, to wipe the sluice onto the road.

We crossed the road to the skull-hill, avoiding tear-stained widows
With nothing better to do, veiled against the sun and splatters of blood,
Cutting the feculent air with their tongues.

Place Of The Skull

Last night you held the cup and said the wine
Was part of you, whispering over it, your blood
Racing at the thought of what was coming, the die
Rolling underneath your hanging feet, your back
Raw from the hooked flails, ingraining with the wood,
Splinters from the board you hung against, your skull

Aching from thirst. You are above the skull-
Place, this large domed rock, thirsting for wine,
Offered a sponge soaked in vinegar. The olive-woods
Are a long way off, splashed out like blood
Against the smudged horizon, the sky on your back
Drying your welts. Yes, you know you must die,

You know that redemption is not cheap, and dying
For these creatures is a fair exchange, their skulls
Guard a great potential, a hint of it, calling you back
To them, their lovely entireties, as varied as wine.
But you wish for less pain, less copious blood,
For grace without suffering, saplings that grow into woods

Without fertilizing rot, if flame could live without wood,
If that Pentecost could burn in them without you dying.
Death was invented to perfect immortality, spilled blood,
Yours, the only redemption, the door. You hadn’t expected skull-
Splitting pain, but you can accept the refinement, wine
Comes from crushed grapes, blood from the holes in your back.

Your lungs hurt, aching. The furrows on your back
Are weeping. Bonding with the rough-hewn wood,
And gravity is crushing you, turning you to wine.
You love them all, all of them that ever were, enough to die,
You love the ones that will be, and wont, the hanged skull
Lolling next to you, coughing up thick ropes of blood,

The woman at your feet, weeping, fingering the blood-
Soaked wood, your blood, without knowing it, your back
Aches from the whip and you love the man who wielded it. Your skull
Aches, aches from so much love. You see them as they are, real wood
In a forest of shadows. But sacrifice implies that someone must die
For life to outlast it, and you, only you, can pay that cost. You are the wine.

You died on a Friday, blood slicking the wood, your skull hung down,
Back slumped against the crosspiece under a red sky. Your back dripped wine.


I hold my offices above the vast sprawl of Judea, judge
To Jews and citizens alike, pouring out my libations to Zeus, while the people
Slaughter lambs on the threshold of their temple. I cross
The room to the window and look out onto the flood-wash
Near the killing-fields, barren save for raised split beams, the place of the skull.
My wife tosses in the night, thrashing in her ill-made dreams,

They came again last night, she said, the image of my basin filled, dream-
Vivid, with fresh blood. It pools and scintillates beside my judgement
Seat, waiting for my fingers. I lather, rinse and she could see my skull
Staring up at her from the surface of the gore, the swath of people
Around me, seeing nothing. The sky is dark now, early, but will not be washed
By early rain. My rooms are wide, and empty, now. I cross

To my throne, rest my head and ponder…nothing. Cross
Again to the window. The plaza is silent, dark, dream-
Eerie, as though even the market was holding its breath. The wash-
Holes are free from women and lepers, I’d judge
That the earth was rendered desolate, her people
Lightning blasted from the soil, save that something must be left, a skull,

Femur, a foot in a thong. But there is nothing. Silence. My skull
Throbs as pressure builds behind my eyes, I cross
My hands over my face, my heart beating, beating, and some strange loud people
Fill my mind with yesterdays voices, shrieking up at me, dream-
Like, calling for the one I would not choose. I am meant to judge
This rabble, this vast, unquiet crowd, whose accusations wash

Away sanity, the semblance of it, their fists, raised and clawing, wash
Away all talk of guilt or innocence, prying the decisions from me, skull-
Greedy. And how did I do this, who moved my hand? How can I judge
Anything, or anyone, much less this bleeding man across
From me, the one so dry-eyed calm, as an oasis in a dream
Who looks at me through a filter of blood and says, these are my people,

They know not what they do.’ Who made everything, the people
Yelling, shouting near me, the illusion of my choice, wash
Quietly away and cease to matter, less real than day-dreams,
Less solid than mist. Lacking the undeniable reality of the skulls,
The bones collected in piles, yellowed, reddish-black, off-white beneath the crosses
Gathered on the hillside. And he looked at me, so quiet. They said they want a judge.

The people set a man across from me, unwashed, blood-stinking, a dream-
Turned-nightmare man, skull visible beneath his thorns, And I was not the judge.


You stood on the hummock and tied the rope
To the overhanging branch of the yew, leaves silver
In the moonlight, the lady herself, a coin
Hanging bright in the sky. Your last meal of bread
And sour wine is heavy in your gut. It feels death-
Like, pallid, the sodden roots of a tree

Gone soft with rot, never flowering. A tree
Too spoilt to ever be hewn into planks. The rope
Is tight around your neck, your sweet death
Is not that far away. You paid for it in silver,
Heavy slugs imprinted with the face of a king. New bread
Is not sweeter if bought with a higher coin.

Gold isn’t brighter when purchased with blood, and coins
Cannot free you from every prison. This tree,
For example, is a prison itself, lacking the bars. No bread
Can satiate this hunger, the only remedy is this rope,
Tight on your larynx. The hemp glows silver
In the distant light from the stars. You taste death

On your tongue, not yours. Some other, greater death
That you bought, and sold. It sets in your stomach, a coin
Cast from lead, weighing you down. The darkling silver
In the bag on your belt is merely painted base. This tree
Is the only real thing around, and also the rope
Rough as it is, itching, brand-new. The fibers smell of bread.

It’s the same color, the color of the crust of bread,
A new loaf, broken down the middle, portending death,
Some gross death, aided by the thin mercy of rope
Purchased with bright, blood-stained coin.
And now, what do you have? You own this tree,
The field surrounding it, bought with the silver,

Gore-spattered and filthy, the tarnishing silver
You got for your lord. No one will sell their bread
To you, not in this village, not for that cost, you bought the tree,
The barren plot of bone-scarred earth it stands upon, full of death
That is waiting for you. Place that blackening salt-coin
Underneath your tong for passage. Step off of the rise, into the rope.

The tree sways under the weight that hangs from strong,
New rope that smells of fresh bread. Silver coins spill
Out in moonlight, packed with death.

The Gardener

It’s hardly morning and already it is strange. The streets were empty,
Unusual even this early on the day after Sabbath. There were no soldiers
In the market holding their watch, no chattering women opening shop. The sky
Still held that weird dark colour and the deep, impenetrable quiet
That covered the streets like a cloak, combined with that red
Sunrise made my work-day journey seem all the longer. I could see the rot

That lines the roads to the garden cemetery, home itself to contained rot
Made palatable, or nearly so, by the blank faces of stone, empty
Seeming, disguising their forms, those slipping pools of red
And black, the glimpse of meat falling from bone, and there are soldiers
Here, guarding what? Nothing that I can see in this quiet
Warrants their attention, just plants in need of weeding, the sky

Calling for rain it won’t receive. There is a pool near the tombs, the sky
Reflected in it, a strange, idiot eye, looking away from the rot
That spreads down here, taking up the mountainside. The wrong kind of quiet,
Spreading, growing like the tendrils of some ill-made plant. Empty,
The town was so empty this morning. Yesterday as well. If these soldiers
Were not here, I would believe the world already putrefying, falling into red

Meat-slurry, all those bodies in Judea staring up, eyeless, at that red
Morning, waiting for me to plant them. Waiting, looking at the sky
For some kind of answer and finding nothing. Not the false order of the soldiers,
Certainly not the God they buried Friday night, that rotting
Meat pretending to Godhood they took down, as empty
As the rest of us after the last breath. But oh, this awful quiet

It seeps into the cracks, drowning me. This spreading, somehow vivid quiet,
Not peaceful, has the feel of a growing thing, growing red
And gaining force, preparing. Something ready to fill the empty
Hole we call the world, a living body for the grave. And yes, this awful sky
Frightens me badly. This thing that grows, inevitable as the rot
That festers under stones, but stronger. Implacably light. The soldiers,

Stirring slightly in their sleep, look up, as I do at the crack. The soldiers,
Flailing for a moment by the wall of the tomb, and oh, that quiet,
That awful light. The light, solid, somehow real, burns the rot
To fertile dust, and the scent that gathers with it, flavoured red
And rich as flesh, live flesh, good and terrible to eat. The sky
Tears across its hinges, letting in another light. I am trembling, so empty.

The soldiers, slumped over, head-cracked and healed, guard a split-hole,
Empty of rot. The sky is so bright, tinged redder than blood; the air, so quiet.


In this dark place where light
Is alien and the air smells of life’s
Opposite, the stench of rot was growing
In gaseous billows, the white bone
Rising up through loose, liquefying flesh.
In this black grave carved into hill-earth,

This is the way of it, as it is throughout earth,
Every thing falling, flailing from light,
Falling into this nacreous ruin of flesh,
In this place where there is no life
Save for the roaches scuttling on bones
And the thing beneath the rancid sheet, growing

Mould, the stench of old blood growing
Sour, attacking the things that clean the earth
With tooth and proboscis, leaving only bone,
These things that live with no use for light
And scatter at the slightest hint of life,
Fearing nothing more than breathing flesh.

And yes, something is stirring in this flesh,
Something other than the stench of growing
Rot, the slight ticking beneath the cloth, a life-
Like stirring, alien to this desolate earth.
There is the sudden scent of crushed roses, light
And delicate, as far from liquefying bone

As the grave is from sunlight and the vast bones
Of dinosaurs are divorced from sweet flesh.
And now a sudden, bizarre light
Spreads out from under the winding sheet, growing
In intensity, scattering insects, sounding like rent earth,
And the thing beneath the sheet breathes life,

The smell of rot and scent of roses are subsumed in life,
And the small sound of muscle rejoining bone,
Of ligaments rebinding, wounds filling, recovering as earth
Does after winter passes. The firming flesh
Inhales, the blinding light, the healing light is growing,
The great door cracking, crumbling. Let there be light.

The light feeds the growing life encased in earth, the flesh
Cleaving onto bone, the smell of desert roses, the sacred breath.


About Bethany W Pope

Bethany W Pope was named by the Huffington Post as ‘one of the five Expat poets to watch in 2016’. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described her latest collection as 'poetry as salvation'.....'This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.' Bethany has won many literary awards and published several collections of poetry. Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren in 2016. Her second novel, Ordinary Lives: The Ballad of John and Mary, was published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter @BethanyWPope

Posted on January 18, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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