Nebraska Center for Writers

by Neil Azevedo

"Dad, I love you and Mommy —
but I like Mommy more."
I do not like you either, now that you are growing
and can say things as grown-ups
and can fix cereal by yourself.
The devil has gripped your heart
so that your hands clutch the sill loosely
when you lean out the window.
I do not like your look, your questions
away from a bath, and your bedtime thirst.
Lately, I've been in cahoots
with the monster under your bed.
I do not want you anymore,

so I give you away to your friends
and to tears — to their heat and salt.
Slowly you will stop being a child
and have already stopped listening to my answers
feeling the breadth of your muscles
living in that health and timber.
Besides, I still have your baby brother
who springs from the closest of friends
wanting my arms.
Go away and play with your friends,

my son. I am speaking to you
on a day off in Manhattan,
the trees filling with children,
and their sounds clattering like ice
onto awnings eager to mark a white day
away from the silence of indoors: here:
I am almost thirty and I am suddenly bothered
by your sauntering through perfect snow
giddy in the world's stillness
that is my home for you.

Reprinted with permission
from Western Humanities Review, Fall 1998
Copyright © 1998
by Neil Azevedo

by Neil Azevedo

1. Mark

Maybe it wasn't I who ran away,
young and surrounded by young men,
sincerely hidden but unable to abide
being outside his ken. I watched to see
the way, difficult to see the band
moving back over the way we'd come,
tried keeping pace with all of them.
So many left when he was silenced
and led down, but I strayed on, faithful,
following from shadow to shadow,
lasting past a burgeoning neglect,
advent of cerements. Beyond the gray
I vanished but managed to hang on, and
until one reached out, I didn't run away.

2. Malchus

I know the damage lucky blows can deal,
part of me severed in the dark outside
the garden; my scream revealed my blood,
and that crowd watched me shrink in shame.
I could not rise, at least run away,
and knelt for the help of his right hand.
Better it had lain there in the sand, better
to have avoided my miracle and moved on.
His group grew afraid as they dispersed,
as his fingers disappeared from trauma,
from all our wish and all of us unhealed.
How I crave he'd left me all alone
and stayed a coward (with his stability,
his worn face) watching us. So many wounds.

3. Annas

(to Caiaphas)

This man's Hebrew? Then he must be
informed of that and feel God in his heart
(we well know how that can sting)
and of the things Antipas won't forgive,
a slander or a misplaced name. This one's
words could someday return to him.
See he keeps the Sabbath, regards our place,
is mindful of our order. And he must pray.
We've often said that most mistakes occur
from either being unaware or too faithful.
Remember, one can be almost right, and
remember how heís certain and persuades
(and so far removed from yet so similar)
about our mystery. Show him his way.

4. Barabbas
(A Zealotís prayer)

Iíve done more for you than most.

As I erase the dark across my heart,
Iíve lost loyalty to those for whom I fought,
to what my hands almost contained. And while
I struggle in manís fingers, my voice
and strength have helped so little,
if at all. I see the reasons why I failed
and am now afraid to die. I donít want
to fall asleep yet, in bonds I feel
the Roman deepening around me:
give me what I still need to fight, believe
the Messiah will murder this enemy,
to give my life and, more, to wait
for the moment in which I might escape.

5. The Crowd

We must expect the one of whom weíve heard

to really come now, rising from Godís sleep
when everything will happen for the first time
and our children will not remember
chaos risen from a charismatic mouth.
We must invent our own secret evening
full of spring, our own collective power.
Goodness must be preserved, and it is good
because we cannot stop those who fear
why we must wait. Now, we must create
public opinion, gather in our throat
voices of our fathers now grown faint,
our tradition of saying what we say
in our belief and disbelief: crucify him!

6. A Scourger

I have tried to be careful, delicate,

and had to go to several different spots
before I found stems ripe enough to wrap
and long enough to twine. Some tracks
across my arms will surely scar, the blood
still running from deeper cuts. My fingertips,
almost numb are throbbing, tender vines,
wet thorns stuck inside my nails,
my lips torn by tying the final knot.
I have given this work my best attention
because it wasnít enough just to detain;
the pain has been excessive and seemed rough.
I donít like to complain, but now heís gowned,
the crown must fit, so press it down!

7. Pontius Pilate

As we emerged out onto the pavement,

I could hear the mob, fervent for frailty,
feel its way toward us. We were each alone.
To divert its attention is always best, to calm;
yet, this time I would distort its motive
and its claim on him. Such was my dignity.
But I wrongly gauged my powers to persuade
and saw my words swallowed with his silence.
Still I tried having slowed it by dressing him
to calm its taste—until it revealed its maw
and its dull voice. I let go. If only I hadnít
been so similar to something weakened,
displayed before the image of my hid belief,
chosen but useless. We were both forsaken.

8. Judas Iscariot

Suddenly I possessed his suffering and calm,

could solve the impotence of blind devotion,
and I understood possessionís real relief.
I held a morsel of his power. I could kiss
on equal terms. I could love, invested
by knowledge of what we didnít know.
But the horror of remembering my innocence,
for which I grieve and will not let myself
forget. Unlike others I owned my doubt,
owed a mouth of blood, and was not
deceived. For he had no right to speak
my curse in his vague effective way—
a destiny he noticed without fear or force.
How it hurt to realize it was me.

9. Simon of Cyrene

Weíre already growing less creative

as we strive to lighten the trying, try
only to be blessed, and with our lives
weíll shy sightlessly from that light.
Weíre trying not to see our possibility—
if we were birds weíd not be flying—
the act of inertia before us
to carry the splinters of our human heart.
Weíre falling, the sunlight in our eyes,
earthly, weíre trying to rise again,
realizing weíve fewer things to decide.
Weíre tired of striving not to trust
our need to rest in the fine soft dirt,
and in this way we keep ourselves alive.

10. Peter

Weíre sometimes moved by what we must

repeat, heavy in our talents to remember
how we should act and not devote
a single smile to the impetus to desert
hours of attention, lessons taught,
to miscomprehend and not to speak.
Iíve not been giving in to this mistake
but, in others, havenít been unforgiving.
I, too, couldnít admit new habits,
a flash from anotherís face and frame,
for whom, unready, I promised to forget
my name, promised not to fail or flee,
in public weep, and now move myself
to reaffirm my speech: I am your friend.

11. Gestas

The growing need to see another light

rise consumes my sight, and so I clutch
an empty hand full of iron. Evening
swells against my broken thigh, dense.
They are finally dead, as I must be
before theyíll take me down. In darkness
now, the women have stopped crying.
They have become the touch of rain,
one whose seen my heavy body hang,
who looks and needs to take me down
and to her house in a town close by,
attempts to heal my hands, wipe wrists,
press my eyes against the dark of her
thatís me hearing her say itís not yet time.

12. Three Marys

Though he understood each thing has a voice

that argues with the way it comes across—
the thing that is with the way we speak;
though he understood weíd turn back
into ourselves, keep our love, and cry for him;
though he knew our need to stay and kneel
and not believe for a while, our need
after he cleansed us of excessive love,
we admit we canít accept a body razed
to bone, and we hold each pain, each rip
deep in our mouths and in our sleep.
He wanted us to weep for someone else,
but we handle the body beyond speech
and know the reasons why we hurt ourselves.

13. Joseph of Arimathea

To be the first to hold him in my arms,

to linger on him while he has to rest,
to repair wounds and his torn skin,
to confirm his shattered body into place,
to hear a stillness haunt and leave his lips,
to see for certain that he finally sleeps,
to feel alone and everything Iíve felt,
to please him as I please and not be seen,
to bury evidence of his defeat,
to hide in tombs in these fresh hours,
to free myself from thoughts I have to shun,
to crave a quiet that will devour love,
to understand why only I believe,
to cover all the damage I have done.

14. Nicodemus

As I see the body, I believe its parts,

as I prepare its presence and final place
praying against the rigidity, as I
confirm each cut and document his death,
I anoint with balm and Jewish rite.
How can these things be, our poverty
displayed among his torso, head and palms?
Iím healing when itís too late to forgive,
cowering in psalms Iíve tried to live,
as the cold harrows the skin, the linen
bloodless and dry and beautifully stitched.
In midnightís pattern Iíve come to believe
in how to keep his image fresh and here
while we suffer. While he needs to sleep.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2000
by Neil Azevedo

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