The Road to Patmos


There are things best not set down in books.

I knew his heart-beat better than most,
Closer even than the Magdalen woman,
And the individual human scent that was his.
His days consumed me like a lover.
Me, the youngest, whom he loved.

He lifted the cup, the cup of accretions,
With a simple grace, and I adored him.

We all did in a manner of speaking,
Then ran like sheep through the cowardly gap.

I see him now, my God,
In his long-benched shed of a carpenter,
Delicate with strewn wood-shavings.
Flower of the dunghill of Nazareth,
Sheepfolds and smells and the yelling hovels,
The son of a carpenter quoting for jobs,
Contracts that never materialized.
Acting out a part. Sharpening his tongue
For the viper and the poisonous grass-snake,
He nurtured visions beyond the chisel and the adze.

Casual, he looked at the seed of Zebedee, James and me,
Laughed nicknaming us 'The Sons of Thunder'
As we fished and plotted the New Jerusalem!
Love, that was his dominant face: breathing
Curse on temple priest, too, and spent tree
Craving, ahead of us, the juiciest figs!
He testily surveyed the empty casks for Mary at Cana.
I remember the mild flush wine left on his cheeks
And the way he rubbed the breadcrumbs from his fingers.

It fell to me to scribble down his words
After the debacle at Calvary.
And when it became obvious he was risen
Among us, I began the road to Patmos,
Preaching, laying on of hands in his shadow.
And then the fiery pen became my sword,
All chaff in the wind now, eagles and congregations,
Serpents, dragons and Christ knows
What besotted creatures of indiscipline.
I outdid the hydra-headed villain!
But the lamb in him is born eternal
Desolate and begging for Peter's affection.
Peter the rock, who asked at supper,
Asked in vain for him to name the informer.

So, goodbye Jerusalem! Our laughter at the Fish Gate!
Peter swearing of a morning, haggling with women.
Wine with James by the placid pool of Siloam,
Round the Fountain Gate or the harp-lingering haunts
Of David. Here in Patmos, the young make love.
Pity they will not know him as I knew,
For soon the frosty elders will nail him down.
And I'm an old man fishing again for my supper.
I remember the jolt of his cross into the ground.
I still feel the shudder like an earthquake.
When I looked up into his eyes
I cried and knew my burning at Patmos.
For, as I have written, I was the one he loved.
And I loved him.


John Ennis, Selected Poems, Dedalus Press, 1997.