Undoubting Thomas

 

Selected poems

 

The undoubting Thomas

The apocryphal text, 'The Passing of Mary', assigns an important role to Thomas. Painters have also been drawn to its final ascension scene.

 

I was the Torah vowel, missing until body sang breath

into the canticle, while Magdalene was banished

from skin.

~

The Lord returned again, this time

to the olive-mount where the feastday beacons

once burned, to prise His mother gently from this life

as He had promised, and bind me to a second absence,

as if I had slipped India's knot into a void momentarily

beyond His reach.

Those of the twelve who remained

saw Him rise into the air as sure as morning.

He spread his arms to the widths of the universe:

all matter merged in His being and all time

compressed into a single moment; their flesh

turned a burnished copper, their eyes milk-blind.

When He withdrew his wingspan to the present

and their senses righted, they noticed Mary

at His side, the near-death gauntness of her face

ceded to a dandelion-halo, her body a cicada shell

on the ground where she had stood among them.

They feared desecration, so hid her corpse

in an unmarked tomb.

 

I had been preaching

to the vaunted and downtrodden alike. Two

comely young royals sought me out, from a thirst

for the exotic or rebellion, or because love at first

is a stranger. I espoused true marriage as one to faith,

the body a vessel for acts of worship, not desire.

I closed my eyes to draw new thought. When

I reopened them an empty stone slab lay before me

in a cavern rough-hollowed but flooded with a light

that had penetrated its roof. Mary hovered

in the light, as a gull is both sea and air, in a flowing robe,

her outstretched hand bearing the cincture I would need

to recount the mystery to the others.

~

What succour then

for my own mother, her son lost to the rapture

of a new covenant, who pitied the belief she had birthed

in him as unrequited and trailed a black sail

into a wilderness he never left?

 

 

 

A death in India

'The Acts of Thomas' records Thomas' death in India by the spears of the soldiers of King Misdaeus.

 

The kingdom I foretold, greater than his, his edicts

chatter, riches valued as lint, that even to lie

on the marital bed was to court idolatry

of the senses, the succession at risk: thus the guards

marched me into the hills.

An allotted task: no cruciform

pattern, no declension of wounds according to offence,

a simple frenzy of blows to shorten the time required

to execute the order, then a trench-grave below where

I gurgled past life, but deep enough to deny even the jackals

a ragged eucharist.

~

Years later, Misdaeus' youngest son

fell ill, his skin had begun to colour and rive like feldspar,

his breath hinted of char and saltpetre. The king's physicians

could offer only shadowless comfort. His mind cast back

to my time among his people, how the sick had prayed

to me, despite my chiding. He directed his soldiers to exhume

my body, to touch my skeletal hand upon his son's head,

unaware the dirt retained only memory of me.

When he found me absent, he swathed his son's neck

in a necklace of the empty dust.

~

My first grave, Madras, then Edessa, Ortona:

disinterments and transits, at the last an index finger

displayed as if a Communion host in a monstrance-

quarrel still marks my name!

 

 

 

I am not John

The Gospel of John mentions the 'disciple whom Jesus loved' in many places but does not identify him nor her. This disciple has received much exegetical attention over the years. Schenke has suggested Thomas as the model for the Beloved Disciple. Charlesworth goes so far to identify him as Thomas.

 

I've seen them, even from this remove, scour the catacombs

like stoats, pore over the bone piles, sniff the possibility

of a random trochanter matching the fragment of femur

they hold before them, then resort to the lathe to sculpt

 

the long shafts that will advance their arguments.

It has not been given me to know whether John wrote

the gospel that makes us beg his name, whether it was

in Patmos, as they say, nursing the oil scalds that preceded

his exile, that he absorbed the Koine script of the text

(not the Aramaic we spoke) and where the brief spells

 

he could endure outside the cavern-made-hermit-cell

as he healed transformed light into the ecstasy he injected

 

into his memory of the Saviour. Even less do I know

of the beloved disciple who slouched on Christ's shoulder

as we ate that last night, who stood and bartered fame for care

of His mother as He mouldered on the bloody cross.

 

Three days later the doe-eyed one immediately discerned

the portent - after Magdalene's alert - of the bare crypt

 

but neglected to convey its import to us. And I was cast

as a termite drunk on the necessity of wood! But still

I was the first to proclaim the words that became

our creed: we seek for the eternal whorl that will gather

 

us into the sacred thread, so that we are all loved,

there is no need for a Thomas, nor for a John.

 

 

Paul ScullyPaul Scully is a Sydney-based with yeo published collections, An Existential Grammar and Suture Lines. The first was shortlisted for the Anne Elder Award. His work has appeared in print and online journals in Australia, the UK and USA.

Topic tags: Paul Scully, poetry

 

 

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