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Heads Up poetry column — Judas


Ask Peter, ask Paul — the really unbearable part

was figuring out those hillbilly parables

We understood the straight stuff, “Blessed

are the peacemakers,” and such, but not

those constant “It is like unto’s . . .”

They always sent shivers through us—we knew

there’d be catechism after the sermon.

“It is like unto sowing seeds,” he’d say

in that Nazarene country drawl,

“some of them fall on good soil,

others on rock.” Well, everybody knows that,

but what did he mean by it?

He’d only say, “Who hath ears to hear,

let him hear.” Big help.

Or he’d say, “It is like unto a mustard seed

that grows into a huge plant.” Mmm-hmm.

He’d say, “The kingdom of heaven

is like unto leaven,” and so on.

And then, of course, that inevitable

“Who hath ears to hear,” etcetera.

We were always as nervous as cats in a doghouse,

John sneaking glances at James, James

dragging his toe in the sand and looking

at Thomas, Thomas looking doubtful,

all of us hoping that someone would understand.

But we never did, not one single time—finally

he always had to explain. “The field

is the world,” he’d say, his eyebrows grim

as a tax collector, “The good seed

are the children of the kingdom, get it?”

Oh, sure, it’s easy when you already

know the answer, but

suppose it’d been you, hearing

for the hundredth time

those words like needles in your nerves,

“It is like unto, it is like unto . . . ”

It drives you over the edge, finally, even

Peter claiming he didn’t know him,

and I . . . Well,

with or without those thirty pieces of silver,

it’s a wonder that none of the others

crossed him first.

From Perfidious Proverbs and Other Poems:

A Satirical Look At The Bible