The Fourth Word

Hovsep MesropianBy Ric Hudgens, for Good Friday (art by Hovsep Mesropian)

He was hanging there trying to remember,
the weight of his body weighing on his mind.
What was the first line of that song we used to sing?
His head was perplexed with pain, his muscles
aching in place, his body stretched out along this beam,
no way to find rest that didn’t increase the sting.

It was a song they used to sing long ago
lifting their voices in times of trouble,
lifting a song like a ladder someone could ascend
up out of the pit of sorrow and despair;
a lament that started low and climbed high
the melody making a way out of no way.

It isn’t hard to make enemies in this world.
Some days just getting out of bed
puts you on the wrong side of someone.
Raging bulls and barking dogs circle round
telling you you’re not who you know you are.
He was hanging there trying to remember.

We know we’re in danger when our critics
start making sense; when mockery comes in the door,
takes the big chair and decides to sit a spell.
He could hear those voices clearer than his own,
their questions getting louder than a pride
of hungry lions roaring in his ears.

The elders used to rise up in the assembly,
aged women and men who had seen some things,
give words with sometimes quavering voice
to their trials and tribulations; but could testify
looking back in wonder at how they got over so that
you felt their truth even when you couldn’t touch it.

The song he struggled to recall reminded them
where they came from, how God had been a midwife
who delivered them and placed them near their mother’s breast,
stooping, standing, then staying close by,
a refuge, a very present help in time of need.
He was hanging there trying to remember.

He was trying to feel that feeling they sang about,
the sense that somebody knows the troubles you’ve seen,
and seeing they will rise up and intervene on your behalf;
but he was a bag of broken bones; his tongue
so dry there was no need for a mouth; his heart
flickering like a candle snuffed by melted wax.

It was easy that day up on the mountain
when so many more came out than they expected,
but they still had so much food left over
there was more than enough to share. There was joy
when they took off their coats, waved branches,
danced into the city like a circus was in town.

No one had to tell him how quickly things turn round.
He had seen water ruin good wood, houses
built on weak foundations suddenly fall down.
He knew those loyal one day might betray you the next.
“As for me and my house they say,” then misplace
their courage in the dark of a moonless night.

But the times sometimes pose a question that demands
an answer from someone, maybe you or me, someone
who sees the machine of injustice crushing the weak
and will not wait for help, but throws their body
like a spoke into the wheel to make it stop;
cause when God gets ready you’ve got to move.

He was hanging there trying to remember
the first line of that song that could make sense
of senseless things, that might sow meaning
into meaninglessness, straighten his question marks
into exclamation points; because we all need a song
when times get hard; especially if we can’t sing.

His mother can sing, oh such songs she can sing,
you feel the world just might turn upside down.
Like she knows when your spirit is weak it is this one song
you need to hear. The sick and desperate call for her
“Come sing for us, they say”. O momma, he cries,
come sing for me now. I need an overcoming song.

He was hanging there trying to remember,
the weight of his body weighing on his mind.
If he could only catch the first line the rest
would come up like a bucket of cold water rises
from the bottom of a well and quenches your thirst,
gives you just enough strength to get home.

God, O God, we cry with our loud hosannas
save us now, save us now. But will the whole earth
remember your name? Can you, will you, do you
rule over the nations of this world even when fools
sit ignorant in powerful places, oppressing the poor,
mocking the widow, turning the stranger away?

O God, O God, you doer of divine deeds, our fate
is in your hands. Our grandchildren, our great grandchildren,
those not even born yet will know of your works,
your mighty acts. You are the one we’ve been waiting for.
Our help comes from the Lord, strong and mighty.
Look! Look! The future is an open door!
There’s a song of hope we used to sing,
the first line pulls up all the rest,
I’m hanging here trying to remember,
the weight of my body weighing on my mind.
O God, my God, my vision’s dim, my eyes can’t see.
My God, my God, tell me when, tell me whether,
tell me why – HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?

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