“Even a Saint Won’t Protect You: Use a Condom,” photo by Steve Butterman, São Paulo, Brazil
Because I live on the beach in what some folks call old Florida, there are a fair number of ponytailed guys in my neighborhood who look like Jesus. One, in particular, drives a pick-up and loves animals, even abandoned beach cats. I don’t know if my neighbor, Pete, is a poet or not. He looks like a middle-aged, hard-drugging Jesus to me, so he could be. We say hi to each other most evenings. And if a hurricane came along, I know he’d share his canned chili and Easy Cheese. One weekend he parked his truck crooked to keep tourists out of our lot and blocked my space by accident. When I politely tapped on his door to move his truck, he yelled from the shower: Park on the goddamn grass, asshole.
Jesus, I said to myself.
Once in a while a poet comes along who thinks he gets Jesus. This is my thesis. The “thinks he” qualification is important. I contemplated taking it out, so that my thesis wouldn’t sound watery, or worse, judgmental. Finally, I left it in, and there it remains, giving me away as a weird Jesus cynic while I write this on a sunny Easter in old Florida surrounded by seedy holy old Floridians. Tourists clutter the beach after going to church on the mainland. (There are no churches on the island, only sea.) Somewhere, a poet is writing about Jesus.
by James Tate
Jesus got up one day a little later than usual. He had been dream-
ing so deep there was nothing left in his head. What was it?
A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him, eyes rolled
back, skin falling off. But he wasn’t afraid of that. It was a beau-
tiful day. How ’bout some coffee? Don’t mind if I do. Take a little
ride on my donkey, I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody.
(from Riven Doggeries, Ecco, 1979)
And singing about Jesus.
Jesus was a sailor
When He walked upon the water
And He spent a long time watching
From His lonely wooden tower
And when He knew for certain
Only drowning men could see Him
He said,”All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
(excerpt from “Suzanne,” by Leonard Cohen)
A lot of poets are pissed off at Jesus, and with good reason, of course. Poets should be pissed off at something, if not everything. If I stay down below the height of my window sill, I can’t see the tourists driving up and down the street looking for a parking spot, and I can’t see them dragging their beach paraphernalia along the sidewalk, and I can’t feel guilty about another wasted opportunity for exercise and a Vitamin D fix. In the end, we all have our versions of heaven and hell.
by Nick Flynn
I want to erase your footprints
from my walls. Each pillow
is thick with your reasons. Omens
fill the sidewalk below my window: a woman
in a party hat, clinging
to a tin-foil balloon. Shadows
creep slowly across the tar, someone yells, “Stop!”
and I close my eyes. I can’t watch
as this town slowly empties, leaving me
strung between bon-voyages, like so many clothes
on a line, the white handkerchief
stuck in my throat. You know the way Jesus
rips open his shirt
to show us his heart, all flaming and thorny,
the way he points to it. I’m afraid
the way I’ll miss you will be this obvious.
I have a friend who everyone warns me
is dangerous, he hides
bloody images of Jesus
around my house, for me to find
when I come home; Jesus
behind the cupboard door, Jesus tucked
into the mirror. He wants to save me
but we disagree from what. My version of hell
is someone ripping open his shirt
and saying, Look what I did for you. . .
(from Some Ether, Graywolf Press, 2000)
In 1972 Anne Sexton published “The Jesus Papers” in The Book of Folly. All nine pieces are neutral on the heaven versus hell issue, but they offer controversy in many other ways, often regarding sex, always regarding divinity. All are highly recommended.
by Anne Sexton
It was the year
of the How to Sex Book,
the Sensuous Man and Woman were frolicking
but Jesus was fasting.
He ate His celibate life.
The ground shuddered like an ocean,
a great sexual swell under His feet.
His scrolls bit each other.
He was shrouded in gold like nausea.
Outdoors the kitties hung from their mother’s tits
like sausages in a smokehouse.
Roosters cried all day, hammering for love.
Blood flowed from the kitchen pump
but He was fasting.
His sex was sewn onto Him like a medal
and His penis no longer arched with sorrow over Him.
He was fasting.
He was like a great house
with no people,
(from The Complete Poems, Houghton Mifflin, 1981)
My neighbor Pete tucks his hair up under his baseball cap sometimes. He and his wife feed the cats that people throw away on the beach. I’m not saying he reminds me of Jesus in any way but looks. I’m certainly not about to capitalize Pete’s pronoun.
When I lived in Harlem in the late eighties, early nineties, my partner and I would open our back door on Easter morning and listen to gospel from the neighborhood. We’d dance around the kitchen making breakfast. We couldn’t help ourselves.
–Maureen Seaton, April 8, 2012