"Make no mistake": Two Easter Poems

Hundred of thousands of sermons later, we are no closer to mechanism than the women were two thousand years ago. Resurrection remains a happy mystery: a good thing, lest we come to think that we are able to raise ourselves out of our own tombs.

When we face mystery, art is more effective than science, poetry more provocative than prose. Here are a few Easter poems, for illumination, if not explanation.

 

Seven Stanzas at Easter

John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

 

 

“The Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus”  by Diego Valázquez  c.1620

By Denise Levertov

She listens, listens, holding her breath.
Surely that voice
is his—the one
who had looked at her, once,
across the crowd, as no one ever had looked?
Had seen her?
Had spoken as if to her?
Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he’d laid on the dying and made them well?
Surely that face—?
The man they’d crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning,
alive?
Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don’t recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen,
absently touching the wine jug she’s to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening,
swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.