Saturday, June 10, 2006

Death at Golgotha (II part)

Novel published in Serbian as "Smrt na Golgoti", u Vreme čuda, Beograd, Prosveta, 1965, © Borislav Pekić; English translation by Lovett F. Edwards; published as "Death at Golgotha" in The Time of Miracles, New York and London, © Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc, 1976, pp. 307-320.

for 1st part HERE
On Sunday you were supposed to go to the wedding of Rufus' friend. Not likely that you'll go. On Sunday, if all goes well, you'll be dead. Anointed with cheap oil and wrapped in stone. Stone will be cool at least. No more roasting in the brutal sun. You'll be resting on your bier with your wounds covered. The professional mourners, led by pipes and double flutes, will extol your virtues and achievements (no mention of those that brought you to the high cross above Zion), and Temna, ripping her garments, will wail "Oy, Ahib!" and "Oy, Adon!" But Rufus will go to the wedding. That swine doesn't give a damn about his father. If only none of us gave a damn about our fathers, earthly or heavenly. Heavenly, especially. Adonai, he cursed, can't you see how your Chosen One has led me by the nose? And how from a carver of wood he's turned into a carver of men?

Zachary and the Bear said they should talk to make the time pass more quickly.

"What are you thinking, Son of God?" he asked
"I'm not the Son of God," he replied absentminded.

Then why did you run towards the funeral?
I didn't run, you did, you were scared that the cross and redemption might pass you by but the procession by great good luck

what lousy luck
got jammed at the Gate of Justice in the middle of the north wall like a divine seal on the last page of the history of sin as a sign of the ultimate end as a prophetic brand which will never be moved forward or backward nor will it ever be erased
the spit of Israel!

what brand and seal's that the mob red and blue yellow white green black amid the merry-go-round of color only one man bewildered and caught in the act like a child,

was it you?
who'll be able to tell us apart when all differences are wiped away and canceled among us and when I hang here for both
you hang for God and you hang for man
I hang for myself in place of God and man

it's hard for me and would have been harder if I'd had to bear the world as I bore the cross knowing what no one knew and fulfilling what no one was asked to fulfill

if I'd known how I'd end how I'd die if I'd known this pain this thundering in my limbs and lightning in my eyeballs
but the cross wasn't mine
I knew nothing and it wasn't heavy for me and simply didn't belong to me just as the burden he carries for a master doesn't belong to the porter

I had to lug it along as far as Golgotha and that for me was all its weight and torment for a while,
though Temna'll never forgive me for running away from the bed, who's bed?
I must think clearly,
crosses are beds for men and beds for gods
either way his death is
my death,
the spit and the hare embracing one another
what am I here?

Look I bear the cross with no effort and it doesn't worry me that the longer crossbar which has slipped from my shoulder drags across the cobbles and splinters a fine thick cross anyway for a fine thick torture from which future generations will grow fat

and I peek between the longer and the shorter arm and see his thin hairy legs disappearing among many strange legs
and there were so very many
in strange clothing red yellow blue white green black…

At six o'clock the skies grew gray as the belly of a sick man and he thought: perhaps my God is coming with a belly gray with anger. But instead night fell.

… with strange unstable voices and strange mercies until I lost sight of him as he wiped his face with our neighbor Veronica's scarf,
so Temna, it was too late to throw off the cross it weighed me down as if it were my own and made to my measure, how it hurts!

But I'll think clearly and with dignity,
think of what since there's no way back, and God's nowhere,
there's a lovely shade, there the roof of my house and the red tiles over you and your dream in that shade, and my moan is so near your window that you can touch it with your finger, dip your little finger in wine and offer it to the moan to lick, O God, O God, why have you forsaken me!

Plug along carry your weight, for you've arrive in time after a whole life of searching in time to meet with God with truth and with you who are the most important truth.
And all these years do you know what that means all these years will remain empty like shallow footsteps in living sand.

At seven o'clock he heard breathing which couldn't have come from his companions. Perhaps my God of Hosts is returning, he thought, distraught by the murmur of the crowd. Instead of God, a wind blew from the hill of Zion and refreshed him enough to feel all the pain.

Oh how that wedge under my balls hurts and that lie in my breast
I want to think straight
how many hours to death to God to vengeance to mother
give me back the palm of my hand Temna which lies forgotten on you lost in you I need it to defend myself these palms are pierced and limp and give me back my accidental deaths preserved in you if you remember them to introduce them to this painful death really painful and unite them with this death which hates me because it's not mine

but I grabbed it I pulled it by the hair and begged it to be mine and now I want to return it only I have no one to return it to there's no God among the red blue yellow white green black clothes or among the hairy legs to scoop it up from the dusty altar of the dust

for what will the omniscient prophets who crave fulfillment say what Jeremiah Isaiah Amos and the children of Israel who wait for him to die for them but know nothing of me and what will Jehovah say when I come before him without proof that I did anything of what was ordained on this earth and all that work and torment for what?

squandered otherwise I could probably have sat on the right hand if I could be sure that there's someone on whose right hand I could sit give me water and not the truth give me water men Romans mother mine I don't want vinegar you son of a bitch!

Rufus my son why didn't you look at the bearer of the cross as the procession passed through the Gate of Justice your father that was and not the father of the world or Jerusalem or of Israel but your own father crushed under the weight of another's cross don't believe my son don't believe anyone

I can't think of anything but water give me that water I didn't want to become God how can he who is deceived be a God he who lugged the cross for another like a donkey caught by the roadside and harnessed to a robber's cart

go away Temna when I call God! Man, how it hurts, how it hurts! Is that Lasarus hanging about my neck half alive half dead and aren't I the one the blind firs saw the deaf heard the paralyzed followed the lepers embraced the dumb greeted why didn't they prophesy of me and say take this cross bear it to Golgotha and then all is fulfilled according to the Scriptures!

Give me water! I'm the Sin for those who call a lie a lie I'm the only lie and all else is truth there's no lie where there's no faith my pain is greater than the world Romans give me water vinegar even if you don't know what you are doing the torments will come tomorrow and I could have died on the cool grass in bed of moist cold leaves and not under these dry Hebrew and Greek inscriptions O God be damned why have you forsaken me!

Water I beg you vinegar I beg you brother and let there be a miracle as at Cana when water became wine vinegar water gives pleasure as it cools…

When he came to, he heard a dry rustling and thought cheerfully: perhaps my God is weeping? Instead, rain fell and washed the blood from him, preparing him for new suffering.

Why are those women in the bushes sniveling? What if I sent them for god? But where's God now? Who can find God at the time of death? Couldn't I send them for Temna? Temna could gather our friends and go to the Procurator's office but they're so far away they can barely see me. How would I send them anyway?

Who can get these women, Salome and Mary Cleophas or the mother of Zebedee's sons, to give up this sight; before their eyes the Savior of the world is dying, before their eyes - so they hope - he's unrolled the mysterious unique process of the universal redemption of sin, and they believe that with every breath of my death rattle a stain of the filth of original sin is being washed from them.

Oh, you mother-fuckers, he swore, shaking his thorn-crowned head, ah, Mediterranean worms, Egyptian insects, Sodom and Gomorrah, the victor's wreath swayed this way and that, this way and that, this way and that, the dumbest of all the dumb sons of Israel whom that old mongrel Moses led into the land of Canaan! What's your God doing now? Where's your God now?

Out of the corner of his eye he saw the inscription above his head, in Hebrew, Latin and Greek:
"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!" he sobbed.
Which means: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!"

"Let me die in peace, you son of a bitch," bellowed the Bear. "If you're Christ and the Son of God, get down, from your cross and help us to get down, too. If you aren't, shut up!"
"I'm not the Son of God."
"Bear, you Philistine nitwit," Zachary said, "until everything is over you don't know a thing." Turning to him who was dying between them, he added: "Remember me when you get home, Son of God!"
"I'm not the Son of God."
"Whoever you are, remember me when you get home."
"Then he'd better hurry," said the Bear. "He'll kick off before he gets there. He's just barely hanging."

How true, he thought, I am just barely hanging. To spite my neighbors. My God.
"We've been sentenced just like him," said Zachary, "but we've done evil and he hasn't."
And the Bear replied: "I robbed five merchants. Wish it'd had been six. You just had fun with your mother, Zachary! But this bastard, here, he wanted to steal from all men and sleep with all women! He aimed high; let him carry his own cross!"

'This isn't my cross," he said as if apologizing.
"Then get down from it, Son of God!"
"I'm not the Son of God," he went on apathetically, and I didn't, he thought, do no evil except now and then I cheated on Temna with some servant, and in my spare time I read the Ionian philosophers. But I was stupid, and that's an evil for which I deserve the cross.

He no longer felt any pain; it had died away on his skin like a faint itch. He no longer groaned, vomited or ground his teeth. His dying eyes saw a tremendous storm gathering. When the earth quaked for the first time, lightly as if shivering in the frost, he thought they were the footsteps of his God hurrying to help him. The brilliant shadow of a star melted on the helmet of a guard who pricked him with a knife to check if he was alive. In the smoke of the torches his face looked like an open wound.

From the Mount of Olives came the roar of the forest. In a black ball in the centre of which rose the place of execution bristling with three crucifixes, everything was suddenly clear: the black outlines of Jerusalem, the black mass of the Judaean hills, the black mantle of heaven torn by lightning, the Romans on the black sand, and in the midst of it all, the white suffocating smoke of the three torches struck in the black rock at the foot of the cross.

Everything was clear for him now, but he whispered anyway, for the sake of appearances:
"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!"
"Don't wail," said the Bear kindly. "Get down from that cross if you're the Son of God! Come on, leap down, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews!"
"I'm not Jesus the Nazarene, you Philistine ox, and I'm no king. Can't you tell God from man, the teacher from the disciple, the king from his subject, the sensible man from a fool? I'm Simon of Cyrene," he said wearily.
And calling the Roman captain he said:

"I was on my way back from the fields when the Messiah met me, when they were taking him to the terrible place. Me, Simon the Cyrenian. I was greedy for the new kingdom and I begged to carry his cross, to ease his burden and save my soul. He didn't refuse. He never refused those in misfortune. I took up his cross and while I was exalting his name and singing of his kingdom, the Son of God vanished in the crowd. You Romans, didn't see him. Drunk as skunks, you crucified me instead of Christ," by spitting on the centurion's helmet, he finished his confession with the words:

"So, I deliver my secret into your hands, captain!"

O bright sun, he thought – lucidly, all of a sudden, and so knew he was dying. Here on Golgotha there's been a glorious misunderstanding between heaven and earth. You're a burdened worm, Simon, but a worm which through its suffering will drag the whole world by the nose. Wasn't it written that the world would be saved? For that to happen, it was essential that Joshua, son of Joseph, and not Simon, son of Eliezer, die on the cross: not the Cyrenian but the Nazarene. So everything has been in vain – miracles, prophets, parables, sacrifices, deprivation.

The world wasn't saved, original sin wasn't washed away. Simon thought maliciously of the men who'd live according to that error, with the illusion which he, though unintentionally, would weave by his death rattle. How can man replace God, and how can man in return for sacrifice put a beetle in place of a bull, tares in place of wheat, rainwater in place of oil? He felt he'd like to push all their faces in: robbers, guards, Christ's proud mother who at this moment ceased to be the Virgin, Christ who at this moment ceased to be the God-man, Jerusalem, Israel and the whole universe.

"You aren't saved! You aren't saved! You aren't saved!"

But in that effort he died, and as he breathed his last he didn't know whether the storm had already begun or the Philistine was mocking him.
It was both.
As they took Simon the Cyrenian down from the cross, the captain said:
"This was a righteous man."
Fearing lest the procurator of Judaea, sensitive to the truth, might punish him because he'd killed an innocent man and let a guilty one go free, he had a herald announce that Jesus, known as Christ, had breathed his last.

On Sunday, Christ appeared to Mary Cleophas – certainly not, as is thought, to Mary Magdalene – and after confirming his teaching in the hearts of Simon Peter, of unbelieving Thomas and all his other disciples, and after issuing detailed instructions for the spreading of the gospel of the kingdom of heaven, he fled into the distant Pontic lands.

And nothing more was heard of him for a long time.
for 1st part HERE

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