The Poetry of
Jack Scott

On the Making of Karma

I was a soldier, but no longer
I’ve paid the soldier’s dues.
My wounds have healed,
I’m old,
I owe no more.

Conscripted to that job
I did not run away
but stayed from hunger,
not through loyalty.

I no longer had to fight
the soil or sea to fill my belly
My grumbling was as stifled
as my stomach’s growl.
Though never fat,
my ribs were not apparent.

I did as I was ordered,
moved around the battlefields
like any other soldier
until each campaign was over
and was on hand
when and where the next began.

I was sword and shield and spear,
strong enough to rent,
too untrained to own.
do my job, they feed me.
That worked well enough
for all concerned.

One day I was on duty
at the bottom of a hill
tending many sheep,
my duty: crowd control
multitudes with their bread
gaping at the circus
taking in the sight.

I made my way among them
on the lookout for
pickpockets, thieves,
potential rabble rousers,
disturbers of the peace
of any sort.

Toward the outside of the crowd
I had to tip-toe to see
what they were seeing,
and none of it that clearly.

Those arriving early
got the better view,
but at the highest cost
with so many others
pressing from behind.

Ordered to this town
but never to this place
until this morning
we’d marched all night
because of rumored trouble.

There were three crosses on the hill
with three men pinned upon them,
surrounded tightly by our soldiers
to keep the zone around them clear.

I’d seen all this before –
it was our way,
our final justice,
to weed our garden
and keep the fruit our own.

The crowds were larger
than I was used to seeing
It was my impression
than many were not local
but like me had come a distance
on the basis of a rumor
that this occasion
might be unique.

Bookmakers were doing well;
they had a piercing eye;
some said that they should hire
the man slowest to die.

He must have known the risk
when he undertook to challenge
the Roman destiny of the populace,
this Jew.
He surely knew he trespassed
upon the air of Empire
calling himself, they say,
King of the Jews.
Or did some others call him that?

A threat he was
is what they say,
hearsay to me;
I never heard the man.
This is what they also say :
he never stole or broke the law;
he never hurt a soul,
or cheated any one.

Another rumor
among the temple guards
is that Pilate said he’d free him
if he pled his innocence.
Its said that he refused
giving Pilate no other choice.
Politics is above my head.

As he dies
the peace is kept
not by our presence,
but by their apathy
as the crowds begin to thin.
The sheep are going home,
they’re hungry,
and like us, bored.

Past their rowdiness,
the drunks are bleary,
to drowsy to be rowdy.
I, too, could leave
and not be missed,
but this is my post,
my job,
a sort of scarecrow
in a kind of garden,

Now that I can,
I move in closer,
but can’t yet tell
if they have passed
or are still passing,
they are that still.
Watching crucifixion
is not the most exciting
spectator sport.
So undramatic,
lacking power
of a play or pageant,
the last of life leaking
from a who,
Jesus, they call him:
enemy of the State,
the state is sure of that.
He looks so small
up there from here
in my corner of the state.

I have eaten, am not hungry
and feel no need to rest;
it has not been a trying day.
My fellow soldiers have divided
the clothes of the condemned
and are growing growly,
having had a bit to drink.
By the time the crowd
has nearly gone
they have done their duty,
they feel no need to stay;
the dying and the dead
will not run away.
Those of the crowd
who’ve come to be closest
to the crucified,
their relatives and closest friends,
have also gone
with the leaving of the light.
Being asked, I volunteer
to maintain this post alone.
Tired of doing nothing,
I would rather do it by myself.
I am not superstitious;
some of the others are.
Looking back on all of this,
from the end of life, my own,
this day that that I remember well
and clearly
comes back to mind repeatedly because it’s not the same at all
as others have described it.
There was no storm, no wind,
no rending of the temple drapes.
There was no eclipse.
I was the only one
near enough to hear
the dying words of dying men,
but for the one thing
that sharpened my memory
and stays with me
as freshly
as if it were still happening.

Throughout the night
I heard some faint signs of suffering
grow ever fainter
till there seemed
to be none at all-
only dead silence.
Not surprising that
they didn’t speak,
they couldn’t.
In their position.

they were suffocating
in mute torment,
a complex way to die.

with the creeping of the dawn
over the horizon
as I was leaning back
against the base of the middle post
a voice above me spoke
almost too low to hear.
“Stand back”, it said.
I scrambled to my feet
half in fright, half in simple urgency.
As I ran away I heard a crack
much like the sound
of timber being felled, a tree,
and the cross fell toward me.
It landed, raising dust,
enough that it was hard to see
until it settled,
and unsettled me.
At my feet was not a cross,
with no man still upon it.
What had been was now
a giant sunflower.

I heard a voice then
from nothing I could see
which said, “Take one seed.”
That’s all it said, the end of it.
I did as I was told.
I put it in my pocket;
I’ve kept it ever since.
It came with no instructions
as if I should know what to do.
I didn’t, and I don’t.

I stayed in the army
until my wounding,
then returned to my birthplace,
retired into my wondering.
Rumors of that day abound,
increasing, spreading
based on witnesses’ accounts
of what they saw that wasn’t there,
circulated no doubt by them as well.

I do not and never have
doubted my sense or senses.
I am a simple man,
though not without imagination.
I’ll listen to or tell a tale,
they all go well with wine.

But I know what I see
when I see it,
and as well what I’ve seen,
and what I haven’t.

I reach into my pocket,
pull out my hand,
look at what is in it:
a sunflower seed.
What more can I say?

L7 ®Copyright 1999 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.