(March 2000)

Copyright (c) 2000 First Things 101 (March 2000): 15, 26, 38, 63, 68.

(to Caiaphas)

This man’s Judean? So he must be taught
himself and thereby feel God in his heart
(we well know how that can sting)
and the things Antipas won’t forgive,
a slander or a misplaced name. This one’s
words could someday return to him. . . .
He must regard his place, remember ours,
keep the Sabbath and remember this,
and pray. You know how some mistakes arise
from being too blind or too literal, faithful.
Remember, one can be almost right.
Remember how he’s certain and persuades
(and so far removed from yet so similar)
about our mystery. Show him the way.

—Neil Azevedo

(a Zealot’s prayer)

I’ve done more for you than most.
As I erase the dark across my heart,
I’ve lost loyalty to those for whom I fought,
to what my hands almost contained. And while
I struggle in man’s fingers, my voice
and strength have helped so little,
if at all. I see the reasons why I failed
and am now afraid to die. I don’t want
to fall asleep yet, in bonds I feel
the Roman deepening around me:
give me what I still need to fight, believe
the Messiah will murder this enemy,
to give my life and, more, to wait
for the moment in which I might escape.

—Neil Azevedo

Pontius Pilate

The crowd assembled. I listened to its power
measuring his weakness. As I watched
from the pavement we were each alone.
To attend its attention is always best.
I distorted the distance that divided it
from his life, from one most like ourselves.
I had no power to persuade, my words
rendered useless as his faltering silence.
I tried, slowed the process by dressing him
to calm its taste, a defeat become a voice
swallowed by its voice. If only not to be
so similar to something weakened, shown
before the image of my hid belief.
When it’s too hungry it must be left alone.

—Neil Azevedo

Simon of Cyrene

We’re already growing less creative
as we strive to lighten the trying, try
only to be blessed, and with our lives
we’ll shy sightlessly from that light.
We’re trying not to see our possibility—
if we were birds we’d not be flying—
the act of inertia before us
to carry the splinters of our human heart.
We’re falling, the sunlight in our eyes,
earthly, we’re trying to rise again,
realizing we’ve fewer things to decide.
We’re tired of striving not to trust
our need to rest in the fine soft dirt,
and in this way we keep ourselves alive.

—Neil Azevedo

Joseph of Arimathea

To be the first to hold him in my arms,
to linger on him while he has to rest,
to repair wounds and his torn skin,
to confirm his shattered body into place,
to hear a stillness haunt and leave his lips,
to see for certain that he finally sleeps,
to feel alone and everything I’ve felt,
to please him as I please and not be seen,
to bury evidence of his defeat,
to hide in tombs in these fresh hours,
to free myself from thoughts I have to shun,
to crave a quiet that will devour love,
to understand why only I believe,
to cover all the damage I have done.

Neil Azevedo


As I see the body, I believe its parts,
as I prepare its presence and final place
praying against the rigidity, as I
confirm each cut and document his death.
I anoint with balm and Jewish rite.
How can these things be, our need
displayed among his torso, head, and palms?
I’m healing when it’s too late to forgive,
cowering in psalms I’ve tried to live,
as the cold harrows the skin, the linen
bloodless and dry and beautifully stitched.
In midnight’s pattern I’ve come to believe
in how to keep his image fresh and here
while we suffer. While he needs to sleep.

—Neil Azevedo