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The Crucifixion


The Crucifixion

Theodore Richards

Homebound p u bl i c at i on s stonington connecticut


the crucifixion Copyright Š 2012 by Theodore Richards All Rights Reserved All Rights Reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and publisher. Except for brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For bulk ordering information or permissions write: Homebound Publications, PO Box 1442 Pawcatuck, Connecticut 06379-1968 All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All occurrences in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, past or present, is purely coincidental. Visit Homebound Publications: www.homebound.hiraethpress.com Visit the author at: www.theodorerichards.com first edition ISBN : 978-0-9835852-6-8 (pbk) book design Front Cover Image Attribution: Š Tonika Johnson Book Design: Leslie M. Browning Typeface: Adobe Garamond Pro


also by theodore richards poetry Handprints on the Womb nonfiction Cosmosophia: Cosmology, Mysticism and the Birth of a New Myth


Table of Contents Chapter I The Dream 1

Chapter II Mother and Child 7

Chapter III In The Land of the Pharaohs 17

Chapter IV The Virgin 37

Chapter V Exodus 61


Chapter VI The Wait 85

Chapter VII Song of Songs 111

Chapter VIII The Last Supper 137

Chapter IX The Passion 151

Chapter X The Crucifixion 159

Chapter XI The Resurrection 167

Epilogue


To the children who have, more than once, been my salvation, and to the mothers and grandmothers who have been theirs.


Chapter i The Dream And afterward, I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

—Joel 2:28


the crucifixion

I

t happened the same, over and over again. In the beginning, he always looks down at his feet, mov... ing to the steady rhythm which he recognizes as his own, slow pace. But he is less looking down than he is avoiding looking up. His eyes reveal so much: the blank, horrific gaze of a man who has crossed the threshold from seeing the world as God made it, as a child sees it, only in its beauty, to the hopeless, empty cognizance of a world irrevocably soiled. So seldom do human beings rediscover that beauty once the ugliness has been revealed. He looks down because he has chosen to see no more. He walks on. Over dirt and rock, he walks; over broken glass, cracking under his feet, plastic bags and candy wrappers, blowing in the wind. Over sidewalks, barren, the man walks. There are no dandelions reaching out between the cracks. He walks past crowds, shouting at him, cursing at him. Even the first time, when it all seemed so strange, those curses felt familiar. He is certain that he knows no one in the crowd, but he knows the curses. He is close to home. He keeps on. He hates this part the most. The walking. The hoping. Tortured with the possibility of a different outcome, he walks. But he never truly believes it will end differently. The man knows how it will end. But he cannot help but hope—hope that this time he will stop, or turn around, or even join the crowd and turn those curses to praise. Someday, perhaps, it will change, but not today. Today he keeps on, his pace never changing, his eyes seldom lifting even to look where he is going, and then only briefly, only forward. He does not want to see where he is going.

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He does not need to see where he is going. He already knows. And finally, he stops to pick up the small metal instrument. He feels his hands close around its handle. Only then does he see before him the huge, wooden cross and the faceless figure—neither male nor female, young nor old—tied securely, legs straight down on the vertical plank, arms stretched as far as they can go on the horizontal, palms open, pleading, or maybe waiting for an embrace. He can never tell. Truthfully, he no longer knows the difference. It always surprises him that his victim never struggles. He can feel the hoping in his victim. Give up, he wants to say. Hope hurts too much. Almost as much as for the dreams to stop, he wants just once to see who it is, to look into the eyes of the one he tortures, of his own torturer. But to see those eyes is his greatest fear; and when that fear begins to enter his own consciousness he begins to smell the fear of his counterpart. It is then, as always, that he begins to drive nails into flesh. And it is always the screams of his victim which awake him. Or are those his own screams? Either way, he will sleep no more. The crucifixion has begun.

w There were times when he wanted to lash out at something, someone, for his torment. But he knew there was no one to blame. Except for himself. We are all tortured, he supposed, in one way or another. We each have a pain, a test of our capacity to endure which we spend our lives trying to understand. Understand, not overcome, because some pain is too great to overcome, some tests

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too difficult to truly master. Understanding is enough, or at least as much as can be expected. The man was not entirely sure what was this life’s test, but he was sure the answer could be found in The Dream. On this day, he awoke to an unfamiliar voice. It was the conductor. The train had stopped. The man looked in the conductor’s direction, uncomprehendingly. He looked through him, really. Slowly, his gaze turned toward the window. Now he remembered. He was home. After so many years, he was home.

w This city, his city, was as he remembered it: a photograph in black and white. The images he had seen so often in his mind never moved. Trapped, frozen in its assigned identities, its predetermined roles, city life was simple and direct. No gray areas. No fear of change, for change was not an option. The only fear was of The Other: rich of poor, poor of rich; black of white, white of black. Of course, the man knew that such gray areas did exist. But the city did not permit such an indulgence as grayness. He knew now, as he had not known in his previous life in the city, that survival depended upon sticking to an assigned identity, which was not so much a description of who you were as an assertion of who you were not. And while the photograph of his mind had faded—some had died, others were born; shops and restaurants were boarded up while new businesses sprung up like weeds in the sidewalk—all that was essential to the city remained unchanged, like a photograph, unmoved.

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Slowly, he arose. Even more slowly, deliberately, he retrieved a single bag containing all of his worldly possessions from the overhead compartment. The man sensed the impatience growing in the conductor. He did not care. He looked at the conductor as if to say, I don’t have to get out here. If I’m too slow, just get the train moving and I’ll get out at the next stop. And in truth, he would not have minded. There were few things that scared the man; he had traveled far and wide. But nothing terrified him like home. How long had it been? As he walked down the aisle and exited the train, he tried to calculate the years in his head. Five years? Six? He could not remember. What did it matter, anyway? He was a young man, and his departure had been far enough in the past to make his existence here seem like a previous lifetime. In many ways, it was. The crisp autumn air jolted his senses. There is nothing like a cool, sunny autumn day, something melancholy in the long shadows and softly falling leaves. As the hopeful spring sunshine announces the warmth yet to come, the fall sun only reminds us of what will see no more, this year. It must have been about the same temperature the day I left, he thought, so many years ago. But that had been spring, and although May and October may have the same temperatures, there is nothing so different as autumn and spring. Like birth and death. Sometimes, however, the man wondered if they were really so different at all. Although he kept his own unmistakable, deliberate, slow pace, he passed by most of the passengers who had gotten off before him. They were busy reuniting with their loved ones.

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He watched a couple lean clumsily on one another. Drunk, he thought, from a night in the bar car, or in love. For a moment, the man wondered if being drunk and in love were really so different at all. I must forget this grayness, he reminded himself. I am home. The platform seemed too long for the train, for the little building that was the train station. Too long for this city. The man had just enough money for the bus, but he would walk anyway. Walking was his meditation. For a man with no home and few possessions it felt right to be moving, his feet his only vehicle. As he walked, he often thought of Moses, fleeing Egypt, walking away from everything he knew, away from his home. Away from the home that had never really been his home. But today, he returned to Egypt. Today he had come home, confronted not with pharaoh, but with memories of his own past. It was just after sunrise, his favorite time of the day, when the possibilities for the new day were endless, when sleep was still far away. And as he passed the shopkeepers opening their stores, the city’s homeless awaking from their beds of concrete and cardboard, the train station gradually drew out of sight. He put two dollars on the lap of a semiconscious man slouched on the sidewalk who did not seem to notice. The homeless man wore a gray t-shirt that read “I AM”. The man was now penniless. For a moment he felt a surge of freedom, a release from the burden of money, but it was short-lived. He was home. There was no freedom for him here. He kept walking. After so many years, he was home.

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Chapter ii Mother and Child My eyes fail from weeping, I am torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city They say to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint like wounded men, in the streets of the city, as their lives ebb away in their mothers’ arms.

—Lamentations 2:11-12


the crucifixion

I

n that same city, that black and white city, lived a young woman and her daughter. She awoke early that morning, as she always did. It was not dreams, however, that pushed her from sleep each morning; rather, she was pulled by the responsibilities of life. She rarely remembered her dreams anymore. She had been asked once, years ago, about her dreams. No time to dream, she had responded. I’m a mother. She had said it with a smile, playfully, flirtatiously, only half believing her words. Now she believed them completely. If anyone cared to ask her now, she surely would have answered the same, without the smile. But of course, she had dreamt then, as she did now. She simply chose not to remember. Even without dreams the woman had enough to worry about, enough to do, to keep her from sleeping. The sirens and gunshots outside, the screams and breaking glass from the fighting next door, kept her awake. And when she finally did sleep, it was always fitful, never for long. Throughout the night she would awake, panicked, sweating, her daughter’s name on her lips: Masaya. Only the child’s peaceful, steady breathing would calm her. I worry too much, she told herself every night, over and over again. There was only one bedroom, only one bed, so the woman and her daughter slept together as they always had. That morning, it was her daughter’s breathing, steady and slow, that first entered her consciousness. The rest—the dim light in the tiny bedroom, the sound of the early morning traffic, the smell of the city—was a disappointment, but she preferred such real

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and ugly sensations to dreams. They were always there. She did not have to worry if they would come true or not. The woman sat up in bed, looking around the room only briefly before turning her gaze down to her daughter. Masaya was small for her age—tiny, really. Her quivering little eyelids told her mother she was dreaming. It scared the woman that her daughter dreamt so much. Even awake, Masaya seemed to be dreaming. She had no friends her age, which also worried her mother. Masaya preferred to look after the little ones or to ask adults questions they could not begin to answer, questions about God and the devil, life and death. Questions difficult enough to make even the reverend at her grandmother’s church squirm. And when she found herself among children her age (as she spent most of her time, in school) she would often drift off into a daydream. When her mother asked her about school or her teacher or the other children, Masaya would only respond with a puzzling question—Mommy, if two people love each other, and one is bad and the other is good, can they be together in Heaven?—or an imaginary story. The woman felt at once worried and at peace watching her daughter sleep. She knew the danger of such dreaminess, but a part of her, the remnant of a heart of a past life she did not even acknowledge to herself, buried deep beneath the broken hearts of the new lives she had made, remained alive through her daughter’s dreams. Although it was light outside, it was still quite dark in the bedroom. Only a single, small window in the upper left corner allowed light to enter, and the sun was not yet in position to

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shine through it. In such rooms, in such lives, the sun shines only briefly. She put her hand on her daughter’s face. In the darkness, their complexions seemed the same, mother’s skin flowing into daughter’s. The woman quietly slid out of bed. In two sleepy steps she entered the livingroomdiningroomkitchen, which was only slightly bigger than the bedroom. She took the last Kool from the pack on the counter and lit it on the stove. She opened her window, allowing the sights and sounds of the city to pour into the apartment. From above, the city seemed less harsh; as good and bad flowed together, the city’s intensity dulled. She sat on the fire escape smoking, watching, listening. She felt her daughter’s warm hand on her shoulder. In the morning light, Masaya’s light brown hand contrasted starkly to her mother’s dark neck. “How’d you sleep, baby?” “I saw him, Mommy.” “Who?” asked her mother, pretending not to know. “My friend,” Masaya simply responded. “He’s home.” Her mother smiled and nodded, looking blankly ahead, pretending not to understand. Pretending not to believe.

w The man continued to tread along. Most would not have considered it a short walk from the train station to his boyhood home, but he had walked farther, much farther. In truth, he wished the walk had been longer. The man had only been a boy, or at least not yet a man, when he had last walked through the old neighborhood. It

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was a place of illusory grayness in this black and white city. The people of this neighborhood had labored to distinguish themselves from the city’s poorest, had taken great pains not to envy its wealthiest. Each house looked the same. Not one bigger or smaller than another. How will I even remember which house? he thought. It was a place where people thought not about survival, but about not allowing those struggling to survive to cause them any discomfort. A shame, he thought, this would be a good place to beg; people have enough to give. But he knew those were always the worst places. He carried the same bag he had carried when he left. Then, he had told himself he would never return, told himself there was nothing left for him there. As a boy, he had believed that the world was flat, that he could travel on a straight path to find something better, or at least different, and never return. But now, as a man, he knew that all paths are, like the world, circular; and every journey ends where it started.

w Not far from where the man walked—and at the same time, unimaginably distant—Ruth prepared her daughter for school. Little Masaya dutifully packed her things and dressed. A good girl, thought Ruth, sometimes she just asks too many questions. All the things Ruth had spent her life learning not to do—asking, dreaming, hoping...—she now observed in her daughter. Masaya could have walked alone, but Ruth worried. The city streets were not a safe place for a little girl, even in the morning sunlight. There were predators in these streets. The

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latest rumor was that a man in a clown costume lurked in alleys at night, preying on little girls like hers. But there were always rumors. Besides, she enjoyed these walks. It was the only time she allowed herself to indulge in her daughter’s questions. “Mommy, why do people go away?” Masaya asked. They had barely begun their walk. “I don’t know, baby,” Ruth answered tersely. Her eyes averted her daughter’s. Ruth had been preoccupied and distant since Masaya had told her about her dream. She had smoked her last cigarette. First thing I’m going to do is buy some cigarettes after I drop Masaya at school, she thought. “You ever thought about leaving, Mommy?” asked Masaya, not at all discouraged by her mother’s inattentiveness. “Leaving?” she laughed. “Where would I go?” It had been so long that she could barely remember the places of which she had once dreamt. She smiled at her daughter. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here with you.” “So why some people leave and other people stay?” Masaya looked her mother squarely in the eyes. It was a look that demanded the truth, a look Ruth never could avoid. “I suppose some people just scared to leave,” said Ruth. “Maybe they think that if they leave nobody will love them when they get back.” “I think the ones that leave are the scared ones. Except they scared of people loving them too much.” They walked in silence the rest of the way.

w

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When they arrived at the school Ruth squatted down and fidgeted with her daughter’s jacket. “You be good, baby,” she said. “I’ll be waiting for you right here after school.” She recalled Masaya’s first year at school. Every day she had expected her little girl to be trampled by the little “thugs” that were her classmates. But somehow she had always made it home in one piece. She watched little Masaya until she was safely (safely?) behind the school doors. As small and gentle as she was, her little girl was a fighter. She had to be to survive. But Ruth feared it would one day be her death.

w Masaya. From time to time, Ruth wished she had not given her daughter that name. She could not even remember where she had heard it. She told everyone who inquired that she had simply made it up. She liked the way it sounded, she had said. But truthfully, she had once read a story about the mythological Masaya—in a book from Central America, perhaps. She remembered it from her own childhood: A young woman, a virgin, (did Ruth even know what a virgin was when she read it?) is led up the steep trail through the jungle, bound and blindfolded. Her look is blank; she is unafraid. Night is falling. A huge bat flies closely above their heads. She is led only by men, performing their somber duty. Finally, they reach the pinnacle. They stand atop a smoldering volcano. In a few moments, the young woman has been hurled screaming into the fiery, furious Earth. Deep within the Earth’s core awaits the Goddess of the underworld. In

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Ruth’s mind, the Goddess is both beautiful and horrifying, but she is unsure if the book described her like this or it is her own imagination. The terrified virgin melts into the Goddess. There is a look of sadness, a steamy, burning tear, perhaps, on the face of the Goddess, Ruth thinks. Above ground, the men’s sorrow is assuaged by their relief. They have appeased the Goddess of the underworld once more. She will not spew out her burning despair to cover the Earth once more. They chant the name of the Goddess as they walk back down the trail. “Masaya. . . Masaya. . . Masaya. . . .” If they only knew, Ruth thought when she read the story, the Earth’s tears, not her anger, cause the eruptions. The Goddess does not want these sacrifices; she wants to be freed from them.

w Masaya settled down into her seat. Two boys were fighting in the corner. There was busy chatter everywhere, but she remained silent. Her teacher, a young white woman, could not even relate to any of her 35 students, much less teach them. She often had no idea what they were saying. How can I teach children I can’t even understand? she would think. She spent most of her energy on the children who caused trouble or who conformed best to the regimen of school. Masaya fit into neither category. She caused little trouble, but she was often uninterested in the routine of school, so her grades, while still good, did not reveal her intellect. Ignored by her classmates and teachers, she took a piece of paper from her desk. There was a series of math problems on

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the board, meant to occupy the students before the bell rang indicating the beginning of school. But she did not even look up at them. Instead, Masaya began to compose a story.

w Ruth turned away from the school and headed across the street to the bodega. Moving slowly, gracefully, she seemed to float amid the swirling chaos that was the street in front of the school. The shelves of the tiny corner store were sparsely stocked: a few canned goods, chips, candy. A refrigerator contained some soda and an assortment of beer and malt liquor. Most of the shelves were empty. Ruth smiled at the short, bearded man behind the counter. Many around here did not like Arabs (called them Ay-rabs) who came from afar, making money in the Black community by day, leaving at night. Like immigrant groups before them, they had learned racism; they had adopted it to assimilate. The city had demanded that they choose a side, white or black. But they had always treated Ruth kindly, even letting her get cigarettes on credit when she was short on cash. She stepped up to the counter and asked for a pack of Kools. The Arab smiled as he handed her the cigarettes and took her money—three dollars in quarters. The box of blunts on the counter caught her eye. Ruth remembered coming to this store at lunch in high school, when it had been owned by Puerto Ricans. Discreetly sliding a five dollar bill and a couple of quarters over the counter, she would receive a blunt and nickel-bag of weed, then go to the park with her friends, get high, and laugh the rest of the afternoon

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away. She used to laugh so much in those days, before Masaya. She had been so young then, had known so little. It had been easy to laugh. Ruth lit a match when she reached the street in front of the store. She shuddered as a cold breeze blew it out before she could light her cigarette, muttered inaudible curses at the autumn wind. Finally it lit, and she began to walk.

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Hom e b ou nd p u bl i c at i on s

Going back to go forward is the philosophy of Homebound. We recognize the importance of going home to gather from the stores of old wisdom to help nourish our lives in this modern era. We choose to lend voice to those individuals who endeavor to translate the old truths into new context. Our titles introduce insights concerning mankind’s present internal, social and ecological dilemmas. It is the intention of those at Homebound to revive contemplative storytelling. We publish introspective full-length novels, parables, essay collections, epic verse, short story collections, journals and travel writing. In our fiction titles our intention is to introduce a new mythology that will directly aid mankind in the trials we face at present. The stories humanity lives by give both context and perspective to our lives. Some older stories, while well-known to the generations, no longer resonate with the heart of the modern man nor do they address the present situation we face individually and as a global village. Homebound chooses titles that balance a reverence for the old wisdom; while at the same time presenting new perspectives by which to live. w w w. homeb ou nd.h iraet h pres s . c o m


The Crucifixion by Theodore Richards  

The Crucifixion is a modern American myth reframing the Old Testament in terms of the flight of African Americans from the Deep South during...

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