A white-back stutter-wing beetle
cuts through the still and somber air
with the suddenness and the subtlety
of machine gun fire—
and the directness
and the velocity.
It hits the wall with a too-loud smack,
and pauses
as if to say, “did you see that?”

“I see you,” says my soul: “I am watching.”

And after a pregnant moment it
comports itself
with many little feet and the probing of antennae
across the expanse of wood
up to the cross
where it pauses again
in the shadow of that
round which turns the world.

“You have my full attention.”

And slowly now
testing treacherous waters
it stalks the length of the beam and the side
of Him who was pierced by the lance-blow
antennae waving
and calling
or mocking
I cannot say.

First to mount the wood of the Cross,
then the flesh of the Lamb,
flesh not living
but carven and gold-leafed,
passing under many little feet
uncomprehending
that here is the crux of the world
and of all that is and shall be.

“You are a disgusting creature,” I whisper: “noxious—grotesque.”

In my mind
I take a Kleenex and brush it away,
take a corporal and wipe clean
the body of Christ.
In my mind I am John at the foot of the cross.
I forget
even John could not protect the One he loved
from the indignity of bleeding
and the buzzing of flies.

Two, three, four: like sins
they multiply,
one dropping out of sight
behind the tabernacle,
one down the altar’s leg.
One crawls across the floor where I lay prostrate,
as if to say,
“even here.”

In image as in life,
Jesus does not lift a hand.
In life, as in image:
the Body hits the floor,
is pierced; crumbles,
is forgotten.

What humility:
the cross and the lance-blow
the scourge and the thorns!
God to be made man,
to be dead,
to be made bread,
and to be crushed in bone and crumb
and spat upon
and suffer the crawling of beetles.

And yet, what dignity perdures.
What strength is in the scandal of surrender—
What power in his pitiful condition!
What dignity no man nor beast can take away.
What otherworldly light shines from that Cross!

It is love, that which endures all things,
which is to say
that which is patient,
which is to say
that which must suffer—
the greatest suffering!—
for it has known
knows and will know
now and forever knows and will know
the greatest joy the human heart can hold.

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