Easter: ‘The Say-But-The-Word Centurion Attempts a Summary’ by Les Murray

Untitled, with white, by Taylor Harbison. 2003.
Untitled, with white, by Taylor Harbison. 2003.

The Say-But-the-Word Centurion Attempts a Summary

That numinous healer who preached Saturnalia and paradox
has died a slave’s death. We were manoeuvered into it by priests
and by the man himself. To complete his poem.

He was certainly dead. The pilum guaranteed it. His message,
unwritten except on his body, like anyone’s, was wrapped
like a scroll and despatched to our liberated selves, the gods.

If he has now risen, as our infiltrators gibber,
he has outdone Orpheus, who went alive to the Shades.
Solitude may be stronger than embraces. Inventor of the mustard tree,

he mourned one death, perhaps all, before he reversed it.
He forgave the sick to health, disregarded the sex of the Furies
when expelling them from minds. And he never speculated.

If he is risen, all are children of a most real high God
or something even stranger called by that name
who knew to come and be punished for the world.

To have knowledge of right, after that, is to be in the wrong.
Death came through the sight of law. His people’s oldest wisdom.
If death is now the birth-gate into things unsayable

in the language of death’s era, there will be wars about religion
as there never were about the death-ignoring Olympians.
Love, too, his new universal, so far ahead of you it has died

for you before you ever met it, may seem colder than the favours of gods
who are our poems, good and bad. But there never was a bad baby.
Half his worship will be grinding his face in the dirt

then lifting it to beg, in private. The low will rule, and curse by him.
Divine bastard, soul-usurer, eros-frightener, he is out to monopolise hatred.
Whole philosophies will be devised for their brief snubbings of him.

But regained excels kept, he taught. Thus he has done the impossible
to show us it is there. To ask it of us. It seems we are to be the poem
and live the impossible. As each time we have, with mixed cries.

–Les Murray, from Subhuman Redneck Poems

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