|Night Over Golgatha Vasily Vereshchagin 1869|
And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, the other on the left.
Stillness on Golgotha
Could this man, I worry, bear the load?
Two are hardy mountain brigands, but the third is
Thin and whipped and bleeding still.
His rough-hewn beam weighs more than he.
“Can you lift this load?” I ask him.
No brigand he, and worse, I know
We bring a curse upon our heads
When e’er we punish guiltless men.
“I must,” straight and true he looks at me.
I give the order. Three men lift beams to backs
We surround them and begin our march.
Now weeping wives beside us wail.
His breath in gasps, he warns:
“Better cry here for yourselves.
In green tree this now happens
And what will happen in the dry?”
A hundred paces more he stumbles,
His rough-hewn beam falls to the ground.
I halt the march,
“We will give you a moment.”
“Bless you,” he tells his executioner -- a stranger.
The moment gone, he nods. I give the order “march”.
His breath in gasps, his back still seeping blood,
At sixty paces more, legs now shaking, he falls again.
“This is twice,” I must remind him.
He grips his beam with strength renewed,
But no: he cannot lift his load.
City crowds now press too close.
He has no room to move.
My troops all heed, “Jupiter’s thunder!”
Good soldiers all now draw their swords,
Blades flash, slap shields, and clashes sound.
Drowsy passersby start, then flee to other streets.
I give the marching order and he bears his load
Forty paces more, he and rough-hewn beam do fall.
“You cannot bear this load,” I say to him.
Above the crowd stands sturdy Simon
Who looks at me and then away.
I call on him to bear this load.
Cyrenian now lifts beam and man and on we march.
Atop stark Golgotha we stop.
My men now nail two brigands and raise both crosses.
Simon looks at me. I say, “Set man
And beam beside the post. Your task is done.”
‘This good man has borne your load and you,’
I leave unsaid. My duty calls:
The curse lays icy hands on me.
His breath in gasps, he watches me and not the hammer,
As I nail him to the rough-hewn beam he can not carry.
“Now the hardest part begins,” I warn
Ere we raise his cross.
The curse is mine to bear alone: I pray,
Ye gods who watch this terrible place,
Spare my men, all good soldiers true.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Unbelieving I look at this man his people call healer.
From his cross, his eyes straight at me, he nods.
My load, worse than a thousand beams, is gone.
In the infinite silence all I can do is weep.
John Sayre is in my writing group, Writers at Work. This is one my favorite pieces of his and he graciously allowed me to share it with the rest of you.
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