by Jared Randall

I. Jesus is condemned to death

No one suspects our empty stomachs
when shaking hands
over polished oak pews, our smiles
averting dark stains
we hide in skin creases, the body ache
we carry across
our imagined spirits, our thirsty backs
and sealed lips.

II. Jesus carries his Cross

This sanctuary cross is always empty,
a memory without body,
without panting, thirst, hanging head,
blood and sweat. No fingers
stray—too needy a gesture—to touch
his nail-scarred hands.
No slivers sink deep into flesh, sharing
the rough-hewn death.
No wine to drink, nothing blood-thick,
but watered-down Welch’s
chase stale saltines, broken in pieces
to save money. Only
our symbols, our denied sustenance.

III. Jesus falls the first time

When poorly we remember, poorly we live:
our after-church feasts,
spirits still craving a crumb of bread
until by Monday
the symbols have faded, souls thirst
even vinegar,
next communion a month, two,
three months away.

IV. Jesus meets his afflicted mother

No one from church sees us, angry-palmed,
shouting children down;
passing the beggar who will only spend
on alcohol, we know
and tighten a fist; or hungry-eyed, slipping
into video stores,
past dark paneling and plate glass windows
to little rooms in back—
thrilled and dead and rising, peeking
for eternity.

V. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his Cross

Our shaking hands pick forbidden fruit
from outstretched arms.
When she has gone, we wake at night
and hear a crying,
pluck thorns and slivers from flesh
we feel, each quiver.
We would nail our limbs to dogwood…
the hammer too heavy.

VI. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

A cool hand on our brow traces
the shape of sin,
her hand soft over stretched limbs,
our tired eyes licking
her light, her curve, every touch.
Unheavenly angel,
never—almost—pull back,
my earth-angel.

VII. Jesus falls the second time

Eyes on our backs are not enough.
The shopping aisles white
and bleeding, we turn our faces
to stolen paperbacks
and bottles, red-letter editions
mouthed around glass
openings, fluorescent visions,
lusts we trade in, covers
we open, available confessions
we whisper.

VIII. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

All eyes confess the shape of hips,
of necklines worn low,
the inconcealable draw of veils, lace
uncovering skin
whenever electronic eyes meet.
We wonder why girls
lose their eyes—why stars pirouette—
and we wonder.

IX. Jesus falls a third time

Touching, she began to touch, we say—
not our blame here,
having forgotten how thirsty…
How thirsty men drink
from any stream, well, fountain.
The tin cup hanging
from a rusty nail, wooden post,
falls clattering
and if she picks it from the ground
eyes follow
                         legs inside.

X. Jesus is stripped of his clothes

We look away when wives cluster nearby—
no temptations here—
but with their laughter in the kitchen
our eyes unglue the screen,
her curves shaking pom-poms
on football Sunday,
a groove we all imagine swimming,
our voices fallen.

XI. Jesus is nailed to the Cross

Each pounding rhythmic wave takes us
over the crest.
Flesh: the sight, the touch, the hunger,
our angry words
at children asking why to our backs:
why this pounding,
these nails we should not have seen?

(Let the children come…)

What did he do, did we see, pretend—
what does wine mean,
this blood spouting from nails, over wood,
this bread?

XII. Jesus dies on the Cross

Can we turn from her, turn away,
release the fist,
climb a hill outside any known city
loose with gravel,
the pit where children ride their bikes
and teen lovers meet
on nights to empty their hunger,
the thirsty ground
where people dump old appliances.
Do we admit this?
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? Must we
pound this nail
and why? Must we kneel in this dust,
say, Yes…my hammer
…see my hammer, hear my rhythms,
Eli, Eli…

XIII. The body of Jesus is taken down from the Cross

When it is over, hunger admitted,
we want more
and to eat, bread and to drink, wine
and frequent sips.
This month. That week. Every Sunday,
Friday to remember
with a body on every cross. Every tomb
empty. Open palms.

XIV. Jesus is laid in the tomb

Still we tear them open, our gaping wounds
from plucked nails,
lower the rags, wrap in white, oil
embalmed limbs.
We chew our bread softer, a weight
on shoulders
we lay down (hungry tomb) and wipe
thinned blood around
the rim, drip to earth. We wait the month,
two months, another
passing. Wait the crackers and juice. Someday
we only hope to drink
the symbols we fear incarnate. We dare
her, body’s hunger.
We dare her
                           to substantiate

(“Stations of the Cross (Untransubstantiated)” was originally published in The Offending Adam, and is reprinted here today with permission from the poet.)

Jared Randall received his BA from Western Michigan University in 2006 and his MFA from the University of Notre Dame in 2009 after spending a decade working in warehouses. His first book of poetry, Apocryphal Road Code, saw print in 2010 from Salt Publishing. His work can be read in Controlled Burn, Crucible, and online at Danse Macabre, Subtle Tea, and The Offending Adam. He is also responsible for the occasional blog post at Connect with him via Facebook or Twitter at his personal blog, Wandering Stiff.

Randall resides in Michigan where urban sprawl cramps old farmhouses. When not writing about tourist attractions, roadside diners, aging factories, the future, the past, and the folk who might frequent them, he makes his living as an adjunct instructor and freelancer. He hopes you’ll keep a wandering eye open for new roads and that you’ll always lend a ride and a hand to fellow travelers.

Editor’s Note: What is this poem about? Suffering? Longing? Sacrifice? All of the above? What at first glance appears to be a religious poem upon further reflection proves to be deeper, richer, layered with the exceedingly current themes of hunger, desire, poverty, desolation, sex, and sin. People–all over the world and in this poem–are starving. They are stealing to survive. They are giving in to temptation. They are human, with human needs, desires, and flaws. In today’s poem, Randall not only weaves for us a world that is thick with meaning, but does so with moments of finely-crafted language. Moments like “a memory without body,” “When poorly we remember, poorly we live,” and “All eyes confess the shape of hips, / of necklines worn low, / the inconcealable draw of veils, lace / uncovering skin.”

Want to read more by and about Jared Randall?
Wandering Stiff
Subtle Tea
The Offending Adam

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