US Review of Books

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“Men have before looked to heaven and cried out
‘Why?’
But never a more bewildered youth than I!”

The New Testament is full of familiar stories that readers of the Bible have enjoyed through the Gospels and other books. However, the writing is often austere and reserved even during moments of great crisis. This collection of five lyric poems each focuses on a different moment of Jesus’s life from the perspective and often frustration of those it happened to.

First, in “The Innkeeper,” a simple man laments his wife’s desires for a child as Joseph and Mary come looking for a room. Sending them to the manger, a personal, human account of the birth of Christ is given. The second poem, “Claudia Procula,” gives voice to the wife of Pontius Pilate, a man whom she admires but who has sacrificed so much of his identity in the name of climbing the social ladder. When he condemns Christ to death, her perspective of her husband is thrown completely into turbulence. Next, in “John Mark,” a young man overhears the Romans’ plans to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Sprinting at a fevered pace, he pushes himself to the limit to warn Jesus and give him a head start to evade his capture. When he arrives, he realizes that Jesus already knows of his fate, and so the protagonist watches from the shadows as Jesus is taken away, putting his faith in God into question. The fourth poem, “Simon Peter,” provides an
inner monologue to the fisherman-turned-Apostle who doubts his role in the plans of Jesus, his past sins weighing heavy on his heart. Finally, “Exodus” gives a first-person telling of the time Jesus spent in the desert fighting against the temptations of Satan. Plagued by hunger and thirst, he struggles with knowing both the breadth of his power and the appropriate means to wield it.

For the faith-minded reader, each of the stories represented in this volume of poetry already bears tremendous spiritual weight as they focus on some of the most crucial moments in the life of Jesus. Adding a human element, telling them through the eyes and mouths of those who witnessed and were present in those moments, gives so much more gravity to these stories. This is compounded by the beautiful choices of words and meter that seem to put an exclamation point after nearly every word. Without a backdrop of
scripture, the emphasis of these moments is diminished, but the writing here is no less impactful or tightly structured taken on its own. Indeed, for some, reading these poems may lead to revisiting the scripture the poetry references or perhaps spark the reading of it for the first time.

Each poem also draws nearer to the source of these stories sequentially, starting with a pair of characters who are only tangentially known or thought of as told through the Gospels. John Mark is written about mostly in Acts, existing just outside Jesus’s inner circle, but closer still is Simon Peter, one of the Apostles on whom much is written. Finally, the collection ends with a poem from the perspective of Jesus Himself. This structure seems random at first, as it jumps around the chronological order, but it builds up to a hidden level of proximity to Jesus revealed in the final surprising poem. Artful and well-crafted, this short book of verse serves to humanize stories that are often presented in formal, terse language, making them come to life with anguished emotions, maintained faith, frustrating doubt, and a true sense of urgency.

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