After “Poem in Which Jesus Christ Rolls His Ankle on the Road to Bethabara” by Brian Doyle
He twists it good, too. He wasn’t paying sharp attention to the angle of his foot
As he pulled the boat to shore. He pins his foot beneath the hull, moves his
Hips the wrong way, the knee slips. Down he goes, instantly aware that yet
Again, this is a savage sprain. It’s not like he’s never busted a joint before: he spends
A lot of time walking these days. The memory of that blown wheel from two
Years ago lingers in his stiff ankle joint that still doesn’t flex quite right. So he’s
Seen this instant ballooning of the knee, flooding with blue-and-green mottle,
And again, there’s no hope of ice, and this time, he is literally up a creek. The
Pain in his knee is like razors snipping tendons like dry rubber bands. He feels
The swell in his chest and wants to burst out with expletives at shattering decibels.
But again, he knows now is not the time for the desperate plea card or despair.
Nor was it time three days ago when he learned of John’s death, even
Though his human heart filled with tidal waves of rage and razors sharper than
The ones currently ripping through his knee. No, this is not the time to call.
He smashes his lips between his teeth, groans, and saves his wails for when
He needs them most. Which he still knows, now more clearly with John gone,
That in one year, he’ll sag on a cross. He’s seen it all. Not just in his dreams,
But in the breaking waves of Galilee, in the eyes of fish, in the sand storms.
All of this is why he starts laughing right there in the seaweed and muck.
His knee turns that shade of puke yellow and a little bit of purple. The son of God,
He realizes, is actually quite clumsy. He could command his body of bone and
Tendon and muscle to be more “graceful.” He could hover above the ground––
As he soon will above water––and never bust another joint. He could command
The dolphins in the sea to walk and shepherd him to the meeting of the multitudes.
But that would poison the whole grand experiment. The whole tapestry of Creator made
Creation through flesh. The whole fellowship of shared pain and joy. I will not
Muddle the communion which my father has made clear to me among all the
Children of his love. So up he goes, clinging to the rail of his boat. He sucks in
His lips again, awfully tempted to tear the whole damn boat apart. But then he
Smiles and laughs at the irony of knees––the pillars of prayer yet the
Weakest, most painful joints to blow. There’s no pain quite like a really bad
Sprained ankle, except the pain of a dislocated knee. You’re never quite
Sure you’ll kneel normally again. He takes the oar from his boat, and off
He hobbles to communion with five thousand. He wobbles along, laughing
Again and again. He, who sagging on a cross will hold all the pain of all of us
Of all time. He, who will hold the pain of his child 2000 years hence.
He who will hold a man who spent his life laughing and scribing and shambling
With joy, singing stories and poems and “proems” of grace and rivers and trees
And love. And so he laughs and now sings as he hobbles. He who knows he
Will bring all beings––including that man 2000 years hence––home to unimaginable
But ubiquitous Love: That guy twists his knee so badly it looks like he’s wearing a
Cantaloup on his leg? That guy hobbles along, singing? Astonishingly, yes––that guy.
In loving memory of Brian Doyle, 1956–2017
First Printed in How the Light Gets In: And Other Headlong Epiphanies, Orbis Books, 2015.
He rolls it good, too; he wasn't paying sharp attention to the rough trail,
And he steps on a slippery rock, and down he goes, instantly aware that
This is a savage sprain. It's not like he's never blown a wheel before: he
Spent a lot of time between ages twelve and thirty sprinting and chasing
After sheep, and climbing trees, and racing his pals, and playing endless
Games that entailed spinning and dashing and whirling, so he's seen this
Instant ballooning of the joint, and the subsequent blue-and-green mottle,
And he knows there's no hope of ice, so he is basically up a creek. Many
Men right here would burst out cursing with remarkable pith and fluency,
But he knows this is not the time to call on the Chief Musician, as it says
In the Psalms; you want to save your desperate plea card for the one time
You need it most, as he will, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in three years.
Which he knows, just as he knows he'll be sagging on a cross––he's seen
It all, and not just in his dreams at night but sometimes suddenly at dawn,
Or at suppertime; his mom recognizes the signs, and makes him lie down.
And all this is why he starts laughing, right there in the dust, as he notices
The ankle achieve a little of the lurid yellow color that follows blue-green.
He could just touch it and all would be well; he could command the crows
To lift him breezily to Betharaba, where he will call his first five disciples;
He could, if he chose, ask the very stones that brought him down to sculpt
Themselves into carts and mules, into granitic eagles, into miraculous boats
Of the purest rock; but that would be poor form, as he says aloud, grinning.
That would blow the whole script, the whole genius of the thing, the entire
Book of Revolution as written; and I will not muddle that which my father
Has made clear to me among all the children of his love. So up he staggers,
Awfully tempted to curse again, for there's no pain quite like a really badly
Sprained ankle; you are quite sure you will never walk normally again. But
He cuts a stick from a bush, apologizing gently to the plant for the damage,
And thanking it for the loan of a member, and off he limps to his incredible
Fate; but to give him his immense due, he lumbers along laughing. He who
Will salve the sins of the world, and open the door eternally for forgiveness,
And bring all willing beings home to the unimaginable but ubiquitous Love:
That guy sprains his ankle so badly it looks like he's wearing a pumpkin on
His foot? That guy shambles along, laughing? Astonishingly, yes––that guy.
Read Renee's interview with Brian Doyle here.
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