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David Hopes

Grand Prize 2009 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest $1,500

About this Christian Poet:
David Brendan Hopes is a parishioner at the Episcopal Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, NC. He is an essayist and prize winning playwright as well as a poet. His work was featured in Upholding Mystery, the Oxford University Press anthology of Christian poetry.

The Passion Play

Easter rises from the plain of days
like Binns Crest from its skirt of cows.
Here are the low hills that have stared
into our windows like a mad uncle
since the first thing we remember.
Here is our perfectible little town,
our historic Main Street, our Founder's Elm
saved from blight at great expense.
Here is Kiwanis Park with its green benches,
its white wedding cake gazebo.
This is the make-shift stage 
sweet with sawn wood.
This is the Passion Play.

The bleachers are full, not merely with our own,
but with folks from Lisbon and across the river,
in the lot a license plate from Indiana.
Same story always, but the players change.
Now behind the rope-and-blanket curtain,
high school track coach Lord Christ
ties his blond hair back with Nazarene simplicity.
The Queen of Heaven folds her apron for a day,
counting not the lost tips, but bearing witness
by breast-curve, by leap of thighs
to God among the bleachers.
Magdalene's children gawk from the shade
of the Cola sign, their mother changed before them,
her cloud hair floating on the wind.

I wondered what I'd be this year.
Not fierce Christ in these merchant's bones,
surely, nor the man-storm Peter,
not Herod, Caiphas, the villains
whose dedication astonishes even the saints.
Not Judas, sympathetic in the modern way,
by mad Israel tormented,
by the dawdling Incarnation
driven to desperate acts.       
As I child I was the last, mute angel.
I hoped at best for the Centurion Who Believed,
the sleepy guard pillowed on Christ's coat,
Nicodemus who is troubled at night
and goes dangerously to see the Master,
who thinks God might raise a prophet if He please,
even from the midden of Galilee.

But they said, You, John.
The beginning was that word.
After a few rehearsals in my dusty robe,
a few splinters through my sandals
I became Christ's beloved,
who in the paintings leans in closest.
It was glory walking with him.
Pharisees bent to their books, rebuked.
Rich men snipped the bangles from their clothes.
I danced a little in my walk
to walk so with a god who loved me.

Then there was nothing but raw crossed wood,
a wrecked man willing me a mother,
all crushed and weeping worse than in the script.
Our voices skittered down the grass
like flushed birds, tinny, husky, gone.
The crowd behind me holds its breath.
I want to turn to them
from this intolerable tableau
and say children.

My story comes after this.
John, Apostle, Saint John Gospel-Maker,
Eagle of the Most High, John of the Apocalypse
weeps here on a wooden plank, my Lord
bleeding between two sticks,
the Holy City yet unseen,
floating bright Jerusalem mothering her beasts
and angels in the Lamb's white fleece forever,
flame, a gulf of fire, a city on Binns Crest
templed with the sun and moon.

Three minutes on the stage means three days.
East of us, a light.
This is poor John at the empty tomb.
I know what is coming.
I grip my beard in my two hands and laugh.
I must run to tell the others.

Copyright ©2009 by David Hopes