if the donkey could talk (Matthew 21: 1-11)

For over 20 years, Jim Perkinson has been riffing on lectionary selections in spoken word mode and often presenting the same at worship services of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church just outside downtown Detroit. This is the first in a series of collaborations between Jim and Tim Nafziger putting this poetry in video form and adding commentary and footnotes flowing from their conversations.

if the donkey could talk (matt. 21: 1-11)

jim perkinson
original: 3/27/99
updated: 3/30/22

so what do you think
mister flop-eared ferry-back
carting the precious cargo across
palm-covered dust and
peasant boys shouting
messianic manifestos
in the ears of pilate’s guard
shouting terror in the tone-deaf ears

of old-men-arrogance
the priestly pomposity
the scribal-orthodox heresy of

“got mine out of your back pocket
with god’s blessing . . .
got mine from the sky king
raining dollars like sweet divination
from the temple-titillation
that rips livelihood
out of the bony hand
that wrestles bread
from the little mouth
that riffs the chorus
of 24/7 misinformation
going viral and belligerent
in fox news celebration of 
falling from evangelical lips 
like a blizzard of condemnation 
and arrogance . . .”

the repudiation of possibility in a land
of crime-in-robe-of-religiosity
of time without a probe of its claimed
monopoly on a party-line to heaven?

what do you think, mister donkey-dark
of your sweatshirt-shrouded
sage weighting your rib cage
with a marked heal
marching to doom
in the depths of the city of dreaming
with an open eye and a throat
fevered with retribution?

what do you think of the theater
and your bit part in the center
for an hour of light before the
curtain closes and the deeds
develop a cosmic conflagration
for the 100th million time

since it all began
another body pouring blood
for the peace of the powerful
in their seats of suffocation
supplication turned on its head
as the decree of despair
like the lie that wants
all of us

what do you think mister innocent
big eyes, swishing flies with your
tail? are you sad we don’t speak
in ass-eloquence and so can’t hear
your donkey-butt bray of the ultimate
truth of that little trek?

perhaps your periodic puddles
on the roman-built road
leading to the edge
of every imperial dead-end
say it all.

Commentary and Footnotes

Links in the text above connect with commentary and footnotes below.

in the ears of Pilate’s guards…

What would this scene of shouting crowds on Palm Sunday looked like to the Roman soldiers? Many of the Roman occupiers would have known the history of Jewish revolts. For more, see Sankamo, Juho. 2014. “Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem,” Approaching Religion Vol. 4, No. 2 (Dec, 2014), 25-36. – Tim

that rips livelihood…

The Jewish temple was the center of a system designed to extract whatever it could from the Jewish peasants. Jesus’ movement challenged this domination. state was an extractive economy. Add article reference. For more on this see Myers, Ched. 1988. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Press, 157; 2001. and The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics. Washington, D.C.: Church of the Savior, 25. – Tim

mister donkey-dark burden-bearer

It is a matter of situating the ass’s part in carrying Jesus into the central focus of the Powers in a public demonstration, before his blood is shed–just like the blood of so many people since “civilization” began, to secure the powerful in their fat cat lifestyles of extraction and exploitation. But not only that!  Animals and plants are continuously “sacrificed” that we may eat.  It is just that modern cultures don’t think twice about it–it is taken for granted we have the right to take any other life we want.  Indigenous cultures are much more savvy about this, and much more respectful in “giving back” both through ritual and through actual feeding of the non-human realm, as well as in carefully limiting their own uptake of the natural world.  The donkey represents all of that. – Jim

curtain closes

It is an open question now, after 2,000 years of Christian history, whether Christianity has served as revelatory of what is actually going on, or has become the biggest veil of arrogant self-delusion, serving human delirums of supremacy at every level–white, Christian, and civilizational. – Jim

cosmic conflagration

This refers to the planet-wide destruction we are witnessing today as the culmination of 5,000 years of human certainty of being supreme over all other species and therefore licensed to do whatever we please with everything else on the earth (mining, polluting, re-engineering, etc.) – Jim

body pouring blood

The cry of Abel’s blood is a composite in the text–in part cry of spilled blood, and in part cry of the ground that is forced to “swallow” such violence.  And my book Messianism Against Christology is a beginning attempt (followed by two more books) to recover the perspective and voices of more indigenous orientations and indeed non-human actors in the continuation of “revelation” in history and nature. – Jim

supplication turned on its head

Jesus’ cry of Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani is both a cry to God and a cry against God. – Jim

the lie that wants all of us

The domination system wants to eat us all and extract everything it can from us, economically and spiritually. – Tim

Roman-built roads

The donkey is urinating on the roads of the Romans. These roads were critical to the success of the Roman empire because they were an empire built on strong logistics and the ability to move armies efficiently and quickly and supply them effectively. And these armies were what allowed them to dominate and control their empire. – Tim

For more spoken word riffs on the lectionary, subscribe to our YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbP6do-3WcRuPHO5_jtTZUQ or follow us on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/jimspoetry/

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