Poet Philip Metres brings us this meditation on suffering, pain, and release in response to the theme of healing and Matthew 8:5-13:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzedand in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.
For the Prison of Skin (A Prayer Triptych)
You threw me down, Lord, on the bed
I did not know I was making, unmade.
Your arms held me down until I could feel
the panic of prey, could taste the bitter
of ends, the tunnel stripped of light,
Lord, you pressed your terrible weight
against the length of my indivisible
body, your invisible inexorable weight,
your hands around my neck until I could see
nothing but the black in front of me,
your hurting whole behind me, in me now
shivering, praying for this prison of skin
to release this voice to air, that these needle nerves
unshackle the this I am, the this you are.
Lord, I am not worthy, I am unweal-
thy without you, but I am not unwilled,
am not still in you. Yes, my soul is rest-
less and does not rest in you, my Lord,
and I’m not ready to be seized by you
in receiving you. Unsteady in swells
of you, I’m unmasted in the squall of you
in the sea of you, cannot outlast you.
But only say the word and I shall be
hurled from all hurt, thrown beyond shoals, unswal-
lowed in shallows. Say the word and I shall
be held, will the world and I shall be born,
say it and I shall be beheld and hold
you, my Lord, say it with my mouth, I’m yours.
Lord, in the fracture of the bleakest
black, under this roof, in the dying
dark, let me turn and slide my aching
hips up to the back of this day, curl
my arm beneath the still-dreaming side
of this day, Lord, let me cup the soft breast
of this day, tender as the tender child
who opened its door with loving suck,
let me bury my face in the fragrant
scalp of this day, then turn this day toward me,
open my eyes to eyes now leading
everything to light, and stroke the dream-
flung hair that frames the lovely face
of this day that breaks into waking.
From the Artist:
For nearly all of 2010, after a muscle tear, I was flung into the hell of chronic pain. The months of pain felt like a divinely-inspired torment, and I could not understand why it was happening to me. Everything I thought I knew about myself, my body, and life was cast into the fires of that suffering. At the time, I read somewhere that mathematics of suffering could be described as pain, times our psychic resistance to this pain.
My resistance to that pain was Job’s: Why do I deserve this? Why has God done this to me? What is the meaning of this meaningless abyss?
After having written many poems about the War on Terror for the book Sand Opera, I wondered if somehow I had taken inside myself the suffering to which I was mere witness; it was if that now I could no longer separate myself from the physical and psychic torments of the abused at Abu Ghraib or in black sites.
The usual suspects of Western medicine could not help me. I turned to prayer, to meditation, to acupuncture, to physical therapy, to acupuncture, to spiritual direction. I owe my healing to many people—my wife Amy, my kids, my parents, Doctor Lui, Father Don Cozzens—all of whom stroked or stoked me back to me.
The poem “For the Prison of Skin” (an early version of which was published in Poems of Devotion) draws on that particular personal odyssey/theodicy, and also reflects on Matthew’s story of the centurion, a soldier of empire, who asks Jesus to heal his servant; he knows he is unworthy of hosting Jesus, but he believes and is healed.
Philip Metres is the author and translator of a number of books and chapbooks, including Sand Opera (2015), A Concordance of Leaves(2013), abu ghraib arias (2011), and To See the Earth (2008). His work has garnered two NEA fellowships, the Watson Fellowship, five Ohio Arts Council Grants, the Beatrice Hawley Award, two Arab American Book Awards, and the Cleveland Arts Prize. In 2014, he received a Creative Workforce Fellowship, thanks to the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, residents of Cuyahoga County, and Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. He is professor of English at John Carroll University in Cleveland. http://www.philipmetres.com
This work was curated by Hayan Charara.
This poem is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.
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