Four poems by Clarence Caddell

CLARENCE CADDELL lives with his wife and three children in western Victoria, Australia, where he works as a high school English and humanities teacher, and writes in spare time he doesn’t have. His first collection of poems, The True Gods Attend You, will be published by Bonfire books in 2022. 

Note. The first two poems are situated in the universe of gnostic Christology. The first explores the notion, found in The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, that Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross for Jesus, was actually crucified in his stead while the Christ spirit watched in amusement from on high. The second, inspired by The Gospel of Judas, contrasts the materialistic consciousness of the other disciples with the superior understanding shown by Judas, who is represented as Jesus’ only faithful follower and receiver of his highest teachings.

I. Vicar of Christ

Fulfilment’s plenitude, the dénouement

Of life’s afflictions—how can one not crave it?

The Easter feast that ends those weeks of Lent,

Of joy postponed in order then to have it,

And more abundantly! What we deplore

Leads on to joy, as if thus to redeem

The one who died therein. The soldiers saw

The man beneath his cross stumble, or seem

To do so; therefore, with true man replaced

Deceptive God. The spark cannot have been

Within that unknown Simon of Cyrene,

Or else it came through his ordeal ungrazed

And rose in glory to the left-hand side

Of him who laughed as Sakla’s creature died.

II. Generations

Some only care for action—mystery

   They like, but wish to see resolved before

The light comes on and all’s decoded.

   Such stories have their law,

Broken sometimes just to be reinvented.

   They’re thrilled by an exciting murder plot,

Don’t see its flaws. Perhaps they envy

   The hero what he’s got,

And wish him dead, if not picture themselves

   His love-interest (or both, as might a few!).

But when it comes to horror, surely

   They would not wish it true!

In fact, some are ambitious to be burnt

   And flayed for their opinion of the dead,

While dreaming of the Day when others

   Shall suffer in their stead!—

Vicarious atonement! Make me laugh.

   But it grows egregoric, their belief

In tales the most permanent of which are

   Often, lengthwise, most brief.

True stories they like best (as if a thing

   That’s happened in this world were true at all!)

Confused, they look to good’s exemplar

   To render evil’s fall,

But should they fail to misidentify

   The two, black knight and white in that romance

Of many versions—check their eyesight,

   Then lay the blame on chance.

Both absolutes and shades are so opaque

   To them, that all are manifest before

Their opalescent eyes as shadows

   They feel as if they could paw.

A perfect audience, willing to suspend

   All disbelief in all absurdity—

But not so ideal on a jury,

   As their God would agree!

But there are those like us who, in our hearts

   Possess the answering light to recognise

The figure understood by Judas,

    Unseen by mundane eyes.

I. Passover Feasts of the New Covenant

Note. These next two poems engage with some intriguing parallels between Josephus’ account of the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD and parts of the Gospels and traditions of the early Church. The first is set during the siege when the rebels are going from house to house requisitioning whatever scraps of food they can find. A woman named Mary, driven to insanity by hunger, has turned her infant son into a human Passover lamb (one of only two in the whole of literature, according to Joseph Atwill). In the second, a Jewish rebel leader named Simon plays a part that can be read as a parody of the Apostle Simon Peter’s career. After Jerusalem’s fall, having tried to escape by tunnelling beneath the ruined temple, he is caught, taken to Rome and crucified.

A pair of lambs, each of them Mary’s son;

The second, not the world-upending one

We think of first, was born in time to see,

Not understand, the truth of prophecy!

He was to be a byword till the end,

His mother said. Nothing would ever mend

For her, except, for now, the pain of hunger.

Take what you will! She cried and no doubt flung her

Compliments on their heels as they backed out,

Those demoniac rebels put to rout

Along with Moses’ Law and Abraham’s

Old Covenant by the power of these two lambs,

The younger surely side-by-side with Jesus,

Who’d warned: To Caesar render what is Caesar’s.

Then which did Mary mean, or Joseph muse

Would seal up the calamities of the Jews?

II. The Other Peter

Simon the cutthroat—you had sought to hide

In stolen robes here where no stone’s liaison

With stone remains. Were you not petrified,

Impersonating high priest and stonemason?

Obdurate as stone, in history’s next minute

Buried beneath an unknown myth’s foundation,

You’d sought to carve out on the earth, then in it,

While stones were crying out that here he comes,

This son of man, and, as they soon would spin it,

Of God, a god himself—a place where Rome’s

Dominion would end. But it was lysed,

Your empery of messianic coxcombs,

And unlike him who would be canonised

Despite denying three times his own master,

Your own post-mortem shadow would be life-sized,

Your master not denied, and Rome would cast her

Anchor, dolphin wrapped, where ebb and flow

Would not dislodge, though Goths and Vandals blast her.

Hands bound to Caesar’s chariot, in tow,

Who lived by the sword but had not sense to die

By it, dragged where you had no wish to go!

And this would take place so that prophecy

Might be fulfilled, the city’s inanition

Avenged and, as at the lake of Galilee

Where your namesake was wont to do his fishing,

Might come to rule the Holy Trinity:

Vespasian, then Titus, then Domitian.