Saturday, August 6, 2016

Jack Scott writes

On the Making of Karma

I was a soldier, but no longer.
I’ve paid the soldier’s dues.
My wounds have healed.
I’m old,
I owe no more.

Conscripted to that job
I did not run away,
but stayed from hunger,
not through fealty.

I no longer had to fight
the soil or sea to fill my belly.
My grumbling was as stifled
as my stomach’s growl.
Though never fat,
my ribs were not apparent.

I did as I was ordered,
moved around the battlefields
like any other soldier
until each campaign was over
and was on hand
when and where the next began.

I was sword and shield and spear,
strong enough to rent,
too expendable to own.
Did my job, they fed me.
That worked well enough
for all concerned.

One day I was on duty
at the bottom of a hill,
policeman doing crowd control,
shepherd tending many sheep,
multitudes taking in the sight
gaping at the three ring circus.

I made my way among them
on the lookout for
pickpockets, thieves,
potential rabble rousers,
disturbers of the peace.
At the far fringes of the crowd
I had to tip-toe to see
what they were seeing,
and none of it that clearly.

Those arriving early
got the better view,
but at the highest cost
with so many others
pressing from behind.

Ordered to this town,
but never to this place
until this morning,
we’d marched all night
because of rumored trouble.

There were three crosses on the hill
with three men pinned upon them,
surrounded tightly by our soldiers
to keep the zone around them clear.

I’d seen all this before –
it was our way,
our final justice,
to weed our garden
and keep the fruit our own.

The crowds were larger
than I was used to seeing.
It was my impression
that many were not local,
but had come some distance
on the basis of a rumor
that this event might be unique.

Bookmakers were doing well;
they had a piercing eye;
some said that they should hire
the man slowest to die
to bring them luck.

He must have known the risk
when he appeared to contradict
Roman authority,
this Jew.
He surely knew he trespassed
upon the air of Empire
calling himself, they say,
King of the Jews.
Or was it others called him that?

A threat he was
is what they say,
hearsay to me;
I never heard the man.
This is what they also say:
he never stole or broke the law;
he never hurt a soul,
or cheated any one.

Another rumor
among the temple guards
is that Pilate said he’d free him
if he’d plead his innocence.
It’s said that he refused,
giving his judge no other choice.
Politics is above my head,
which I know to keep well down.

As he dies
the peace is kept,
not by our presence,
but by their apathy
as the crowds begin to thin.
The sheep are going home;
they’re hungry,
and like us,

Past their rowdiness,
the drunks are bleary,
too drowsy to be rowdy.
I, too, could leave
and not be missed,
but this is my post,
my job,
a sort of scarecrow
in a kind of garden,

Now that I can,
I move in closer,
but can’t yet tell
if they have died,
they are that still.
One or more
might still be breathing;
That’s what kills them:
when they stop.

Watching crucifixion
is not the most exciting
thing to watch.
Undramatic, lacking power
of a play or pageant,
the last of life leaking
from a defenseless man,
no gladiator,
Jesus, they call him:
enemy of the State,
the state has called him that.
He looks so small
up there from here
in my corner of the state.

I have eaten, am not hungry
and feel no need to rest;
it has not been a trying day.
My fellow soldiers have divided
the clothes of the condemned
and are growing growly,
having had a bit to drink.
By the time the crowd
has nearly gone
they have done their duty,
they feel no need to stay;
the dying and the dead
will not run away.
Those of the crowd
who’re closest
to the three crucified,
their relatives and friends,
have also gone
with the leaving of the light.

Being asked, I volunteer
to maintain this post alone.
Tired of doing nothing,
I would rather do it by myself.
I am not superstitious;
some of the others are.

Looking back on all of this,
from the end of life, my own,
this day that I remember well
comes back to mind repeatedly
because it’s not the same at all
as others have described it.
There was no storm, no wind,
no rending of the temple drapes.
There was no eclipse.
I was the only one
near enough to hear
the dying words of dying men,
if indeed they said them,
but for the one thing
that sharpened memory,
stuck freshly within it
as if it stayed in front of me.

Throughout the night
I heard faint signs of suffering
grow ever fainter
till there seemed
to be none at all--
only dead silence.
Unsurprising that
they didn’t speak,
they couldn’t
in their position
in mute torment,
to die so long
before they’re dead.

With the coming of the dawn
as I was leaning back
against a post base
a voice above me spoke
almost too low to hear.
"Stand back,” it said,
with urgency, a warning.

I scrambled to my feet
half in fright,
half in simple urgency.
As I ran I heard a crack
much like the sound
of timber being felled, a tree,
and the cross fell toward me.
It landed, raising dust,
enough that it was hard to see
until it settled,
and unsettled me.
At my feet was not a cross,
with a man still on it.
What had been was now
a giant sunflower.

I heard a voice then
from nothing I could see,
which said, “Take one seed.”
That’s all it said,
the end of it.
I did as I was told.
I put it in my pocket
and kept it ever since.
It came with no instructions
to tell me what to do.
I didn’t understand
and I’m still waiting.

I remained a soldier
until my wounding,
then retired to my family home
to heal and ponder.
Rumors of that day abound,
increasing, spreading
based on witnesses’ accounts
of what they saw that wasn’t there,
inbreeding into bastard lies.

I have never
doubted my sense or senses.
I am a simple man,
though not without imagination.
I’ll listen to or tell a tale,
they all go well with wine.

I know what I see
when I see it,
as well what I’ve seen,
and what I haven’t.
Clearly, this is true.

I reach into my pocket,
pull out my hand,
look at what is in it:
a sunflower seed.
What more can I say?


Sunflower; Crucifixion; Sunflower 2 -- Stan Gaz


  1. Pontius Pilatus was an eques of the Pontii family, a member of lower of the two Roman aristocratic classes who filled the senior administrative and military posts of the imperial government. As the 5th prefect (praefectus Iudaeae)of the Roman province of Judaea, he distinguished himself by offending the religious sensibilities of his subjects. The Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philon of Alexandria (Yedidia HaCohen) described his "vindictiveness and furious temper," saying he was "naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and relentlessness." He condemned "his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity." His predecessors had respected Jewish sensibilities by removing all images and effigies on their standards when entering Jerusalem, but according to the Jewish-Roman historian Titus Flavius Josephus (Yosef ben Matityahu), Pilatus allowed his troops to bring them into the city at night. When the Jews appealed to Pilatus to remove them, he deliberated for five days and then threatened to have the demonstrators executed; he eventually had the images removed when it became clear that the protestors were willing to die rather than submit to the desecration of Mosaic law. Later, according to Philon, Pilatus set up gold-coated shields in the Jerusalem palace of Herodes Antipatros, the tetrarch of Galilee, "not so much to honour [Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus]as to annoy the multitude;" in response to Jewish complaints, Tiberius wrote to the prefect “with a host of reproaches and rebukes for his audacious violation of precedent and bade him at once take down the shields and have them transferred” from Jerusalem to his own capital at Caesarea. Josephus also recounted an incident in which Pilatus used money from the Temple to build an aqueduct; while Pilatus addressed an angry crowd, he ordered his soldiers to attack them. After a decade in power, in 36 he sent troops against Samaritans (who claimed they, not the Jews, were the real upholders of Israelite law) before they could ascend Mt. Gerizim in search of sacred artifacts buried by Moses; many were slain, and Pilatus then executed several of the ones taken prisoner. As a result, Lucius Vitellius Veteris, the governor of Syria, had him recalled. Eusebios, the 4th-century bishop of Caesarea Maritima, wrote that Caligula (the popular nickname of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus) exiled him to Gaul, where he committed suicide in Vienne, an event that the10th-century historian Agapius of Hierapolis dated to 37 or 38, the first year of Caligula's reign. In some Eastern Orthodox traditions, Pilato committed suicide out of remorse for having sentenced Jesus to death.

  2. Pilatus is remembered primarily for his role in the execution of Jesus, who had been arrested and questioned for blasphemy by the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish religious court, which then took him before Pilatus and accused him of sedition due to his alleged opposition to paying Roman taxes, a capital offense. (He had asked the tax collector Levi to quit his post in Capernaum and perhaps influenced Zacchaeus to resign in Jericho.) But Pilatus’ main question was whether Jesus, a distant descendant of king David, considered himself “King of the Jews,”a claim which would have challenged both the legitimacy of Tiberius as ruler and his claims to divinity. Jesus’ reply [Mark 15:2] has been translated as “It is as you say” in the New International Version of the Bible and as "So you say" in the Good News Bible. In the account in the Gospel of John [18: 34-38], Jesus did not answer at all, he just asked if Pilatus made that claim himself or if others had made the claim to Pilatus. Pressed further, however, he explained that his kingdom was "not of this world;” otherwise, his followers would fight on his behalf to prevent his being delivered to the Jews. Not satisfied with this reply, Pilatus again asked him if he was a king, and Jesus again refused to give a direct answer: “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” Pilatus replied, "Quid est veritas?" (What is truth?), and was reluctant to condemn Jesus, ruling that "I find in him no fault at all." According to Matthew 27:19, his wife Claudia Procula sent him a message to have "nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him." (Until 1619 she was anonymous, but in the 3rd century, Origenes Adamantios suggested that God sent her the dream so that she would convert to Christianity; she has been canonized by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.) In the account in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus remained silent during the interrogation, so Pilatus transferred him to the independent jurisdiction of Herodes, who mocked Jesus, though he also found no reason to condemn him and returned him to Pilatus. Because it was the holy festival of Passover, the prefect then offered to release one prisoner, either Jesus or Barabbas, identified by Matthew as a "notorious prisoner" and by Mark as a murderer, but the mob demanded the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus. Matthew reported that Pilatus asked, "Why? What evil has he done?" but relented, though he washed his hands with water in front of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see you to it." He then ordered a sign to be posted above Jesus on the cross that would state "Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews;" the priests protested that the sign should read merely that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews, but Pilatus refused to alter the charge, saying “Quod scripsi, scripsi"(What I have written, I have written)."

  3. A 4th century text, “Acta Pilati,” was presented as a preface to the so-called “Gospel of Nicodemus,” which was claimed to be derived from official decrees preserved in the praetorium at Jerusalem. (Nicodemus was a Pharisee who belonged to the Sanhedrin and was sympathetic towards Jesus; he provided the embalming spices for his corpse.) Based on this account, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church recognized Pilatos as a saint in the 6th century.) Also attached to The Gospel of Nicodemus was the “Mors Pilati” (Death of Pilatus), which related that Tiberius sent Volusanius to Judaea to summon Jesus to Roma in order to cure the emperor. Pilatus dissembled about the crucifixion and asked for a delay, but Berenike (St. Veronica) told Volusanius the true story. She had given Jesus her veil (or kerchief) to wipe his forehead as he was carrying his cross to his place of execution, and the image of his face was miraculously impressed upon it. (In bullfighting, the most common pass with the cape is called a "verónica” because the torero holds the cape the same way St.Veronica is depicted holding the cloth.) Volusanius then took her veil back to Rome, and Tiberius was healed. The emperor summoned Pilatus to explain himself but was temporarily appeased when the prefect appeared in court wearing the seamless robe of the Christ; however, when Pilatus was induced to doff the garment he was summarily executed. His corpse was thrown into the Tiber river, but its waters were so "disturbed by evil spirits" that storm demons rose from it; the cadaver was taken to Vienna (Vienne, in France), where it was also rejected by the Rhône river spirits, and then taken to Losania, where it was deposited in the lake at Lausanne, near Mt. Pilatus (actually Mons Pileatus, "cloud capped"); on every anniversary of the crucifixion, the body reemerges from the waters and washes its hands. Other accounts have his corpse immersed in Lago di Pilato, a lake near Mt. Vettore m in the Monti Sibillini section of the central Apennines between eastern Umbria and the Marche.


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