This week’s poem in the Catholic Poetry Room is by Jeffrey Essmann.
“Who told you you were naked?” they were asked,
And barer still the sorry alibis
Denuded of all truth, obscene, unmasked
They thought their firstling sin might exorcise.
And Adam felt the heat run down his thighs,
As shame baptized him with its livid blush,
While Eve made out in Satan’s base disguise
The head some other Eve would someday crush.
Then angels drove them from the garden’s plush
Into the world fit out in skins of beasts.
As beasts from fear to fear they now would rush,
From Eden’s freedom finally released.
And wear I now original their skin,
For nothing fits me quite so well as sin.
And naked ran I from Gethsemane
Into a darkness that eclipsed all light:
No stars that evil black hegemony
Could pierce, no moon its suffocation fight.
I thought myself a faithful acolyte,
Yet as I ran I felt the midnight chill
Against my skin, and all my icy fright
My timid faith to bitter hoar distil.
Yet who but some rank imbecile
Would not have run at Judas’ fateful kiss?
Not at the sight of Christ in chains self-will
Reclaim with all its human cowardice?
Old Peter even some poor slave uneared,
Then ran off to denial’s bitter tears.
Yet Peter naked fished one sunny day
When on the shore a stranger who he thought
Familiar sounded stopped along his way
And asked by chance if anything he’d caught.
And when the net by strange advice was taut
With fish, he knew it was the Risen Lord,
And covered up his nakedness distraught
With joy and from the boat jumped overboard.
And when he shaking, wet was safely shored,
He dared not say what he now somehow knew:
The man making him breakfast had restored
all human flesh, all human life renewed.
He “Do you love me?” said and stirred the coals,
And Peter was stripped naked to his soul.
Jeffrey Essmann’s poetry has appeared in America Magazine, Dappled Things, St. Austin Review, The Road Not Taken, and in various venues of the Benedictine monastery with which he is an oblate.