Tell Me How The World Has Changed: Easter 1992

Sharon H. Nelson

"Tell Me How The World Has Changed: Easter 1992" was published in Book Ends.

Men must not rage; whispering behind their hands,
their lively eyes, their lively tongues
are silenced. Violence is forbidden,
even in speech; strong words are seditious;
now they are keepers of the flame;
vestal, virginal, impotent
devotees of woman's grace,
while the world goes to hell:
conflagration on street corners;
hunger that sears the belly,
hunger for food, for honest touch,
for honest speech;
the empty stomach, like the famished heart,
a pit flayed by acid that burns its way out.

The gentle Christians,
Old Testament prophecies
an inaudible hum in their ears,
a background song they barely hear,
would make of Christ a metaphor:
their image is Christ crucified,
His pale, tortured flesh, delicate.

Think of Him
raging in the courtyards,
excoriating the extortionists,
burning with a bright, clear light;
a man about the town,
a man who understands how business is done,
a man who is strong and solid in his anger,
a man whose mouth burns with rage,
whose tongue is a match
to set the world on fire.

The flagellations of penitents, the self-denials,
the punishments and withdrawals: cloisters, monasteries,
services of worship to a mystic spirit;
the assumed innocence
of those who live out of town, beyond it;
out of the world, beyond it;
who refuse to know how business is done;
denying Christ, denying Christ in life,
refusing Christ's life;
happy only to imagine
crucifying him:

the pale and suffering
body of the Lord
wrapped in old rags,
the shroud a sacred object,
the holy crown of thorns;
his body roasting in the sun,
burning, blackening,
but always painted white;
shivering in the night,
naked, dying, exposed to cold,
an object of pity
weakened by lack of water:
a whole life of joy and politics
denied in a single image.

The Roman legions,
organized, orderly;
the firm grasp of imperialism,
the grip of totalitarianism,
the sandalled foot, the booted heel:
let us remember
why Christ was crucified,
obscured for centuries
by the confusion of by whom;
the wordy Jews accused, convicted,
because they reclined at Passover tables,
ignoring crucifixions,
celebrating liberation
from all pharaohs' oppression,
while the Roman soldiers,
unhappy on short rations
and too much hard discipline,
with nothing to celebrate,
made an example of a man so angry
he would not be silenced.

The pale Christ
is archetypal victim,
painted always frontal,
naked and suffering,
exposed to men's view
exactly the way women
are exposed for men's view:
objects of worship
most adored when infantile,
loved best when weakest,
most sacred when bloody,
holiest when scorned.

We have had two thousand years
of Christ's suffering,
of crucifixions and fictions,
of the teaching to children
of the rudiments of torture.

Outside the cities,
they are planting trees,
pruning them for straight growth,
to be cut easily for crosses,
for straight beams to hang from.

The foresters are proud of their controlled production,
refuse to see its purposes, as others once denied
the strangeness of the smells, the purposes of ovens.

We have not studied physics
but we understand
how the hanged man
is hanged.

It is not the cord
that throttles us
but orthodoxy
that disconnects
the mind from flesh
constricting the windpipe,
cutting off the breath,
sometimes severing the spine,
the body dross
under the congested head.

The hanged man,
the golden cord
the purple,
swollen tongue.

In the name of what god
shall we untangle
the ties that bind
and strangle?

Sharon H. Nelson. 15 March 1999.