Lazarus in Recline
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews
were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him. John 12:10-11
A swirl of grain in the cedar tabletop seeks to suck me into a still
symmetry, two-toned brown, dark and light, the grains frozen in the
dead wood. The center of the knot begets sound: a hiss of nothingness
found in the hollowness of the conch, the empty shell held tight to
the ear of a man nightmare dreaming knee-deep in desert sands of a
thick-hot night, a sky devoid of light.
I know no more until the scent of nard, musky as a garden of kale so
green it tips toward decay, reels my senses. I am among the living,
reclining next to a table laden with bread and spiced oil, dates,
figs, steamed fish. The wine may be as sweet as an overripe plum, but
my lips be numb, and my tongue, thick as a broomstick, tastes of
sawdust and crumbs.
Martha serves. Her jaw moves but I do not understand the words,
syllables drooling from her lips in elongated drips to be swallowed by
the drone swirling from the center of the cedar knot. She steps into a
sunset glow flowing through an open window, hardens into a marble
likeness of an ancient and terrible goddess. Rings of heat, like two
pebbles thrown into still waters, ripple concentric from eyes as hot
as sacrificial blood. Shame stains my cheeks as her gaze falls upon
Mary kneels next to The Teacher, her dark hair cascading over his feet
like a tent pregnant with mystery, her face hidden in the locks. The
scent of nard rises like a sybil’s vapor, and I need to weep but
cannot. Sunset red slants through the window behind them, falls over
Mary’s shoulders like a funeral shroud spun from flame.
Judas saunters into the room as if he owns the world, places a too
small hand on his hip, points a fat finger down on Mary. His words are
blurred by the sibilance flowing from the center of the cedar knot to
flood the room. Spittle spurts like seeds of greed from the gaps
between his teeth, kernels of covetousness spat from the furnace of
Mary raises her head and her hair is caked with dust. Rosy light from
the dying sun spills across her face like spilt wine. She is crying
and I want to stand and go to her, to comfort her, but I am paralyzed.
I cannot speak. I am too tired for solace. The Teacher places his hand
on her skull like the crown of a queen.
The room falls quiet; the hissing fades. He whispers, “…but you do not
always have me,” and, then, the living word retreats into the cedar
drone renewed. The buzzing of a thousand bees builds in my brain. The
sun sinks under the horizon and the cedar whispers once more,
prophesizes a plot to betray. I try to cry out, want to warn, but can
Martha, night now cancerous in the window behind her, takes up a cup
of wine. She drains the juice before placing the vessel on the two-
tone knot of wood. She then takes up a bread loaf and tears it, offers
me a piece. Hunger I have not. I want only to sleep deep, devoid of
dreams, to let the cedar suck me into its hum.
John M. Gist's poetry, creative nonfiction, and short fiction have appeared in publications such as the Poetry Pacific, Stoneboat, Wilderness House, Galway Review, Dr. T.J Eckleburg Review, Superstition Review, Gravel, Pithead Chapel, New Oxford Review, New Mexico Magazine, and many others. With an M.F.A from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, he teaches at sunny Western New Mexico University.