Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lenten Voices: The Three Temptations

by Sharon Cumberland

I’ve been writing poems based on the life of Jesus (Yeshua in my poems) using a variation of a form called “bout rime”--French for “end rhymes.” In my practice I take the fourteen end-rhyming words from a Shakespearean sonnet and work them into my poem as interior rhyme (i.e. not on the end of lines). You shouldn’t be able to notice the rhyming words but they cause me to take the poem in different directions than I otherwise would, and they hold the poem together. They even relate to Shakespeare’s sonnet in an oblique sort of way. This one is based on Sonnet 144.


He was not only hungry, but lost. The desert
is the same in all directions. Despair set in.
He could neither walk nor sit still.
At this impasse a man approached him,
so fair, so graceful,
that Yeshua believed he was an angel.

You look ill
, the man said. Let me share my meal.
With that a banquet--not just bread, but leg of lamb,
mint sauce, nectarines, honey and figs--
was spread on the desert floor.
Yeshua felt a rush of relief:
The evil is behind me!
He thanked God and reached toward the manna.
But the man with saphire eyes handed him a stone.
Look! he said. It's so easy!
He rolled it in his hands--
instantly the stone was roasted goat,
charred, mouthwatering, fragrant.
Yeshua felt the scratch of danger down his spine,
then turned from the devil
to face the wilderness again.

But the man with the delicate hands was beside him.
Come, now, your pride will kill you!
He spread his arms and the desert
became the world--glittering, needy-- so many
souls to love. They hunger for you!
The fiend said this in a voice that rang like cymbals.
Yeshua rubbed his eyes, sat down in the hot sand.
It's true that they need me, he told his Father.
Tell me what to do.

But the man whose feet were like ivory
spoke again: Look, friend!
A chasm fell away. They were on the Temple roof
and the desert below was Jerusalem.
Go to them, he said. Fly down to your people.
(The press of his sinuous fingers on Yeshua's back).
The Son of God can do anything!

And suddenly Yeshua could see it all,
like a pageant spread over the sand.
He turned to the beautiful man, and said

Yes, you're right, I can.
He embraced the demon who was, he realized,
as needy as any. Go to Hell, said Yeshua, kindly.
I'll be there shortly.
First it was rage, then doubt,
then a squint of anticipation
over the devil's golden brow
before he led the Rabbi out.

Sharon Cumberland is a member of St. Paul's and an Associate Professor of English at Seattle University.

1 comment:

Linera Lucas said...

Thank you for this, a fine poem, which illuminates the very inside of temptation.