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Feather's Miscellany: Barabbas

...But who's the character the great dictator
Pilate's hung between the two poor sods
who shared my cell with me?...

John Waddington-Feather's poem presents the musings of the freed prisoner, Barabbas.

I'll thank him for that if nothing else,
for I tell you, mate, I thought I'd had it
when I heard 'em shout my name.
"Give us Barabbas!" I heard 'em yell
outside – an’ I swear I saw hell
itself gape wide. "What's their game?"
I thought, lying there waiting, waiting – an’ I grit
my teeth till sweat ran off like water,
an’ hid in the stinking straw
shivering with fear an’ biting my fingers
to the quick. "Give us Barabbas!" still lingers,
that shout sticks in my craw
like death itself.

I oughter known it was my lucky day, though,
when the gaoler said they would release
a prisoner - for I've made many friends
high up, who always swore they'd make amends
for little – er - favours I did to please
'em once, fixing a witness a while ago
to save embarrassment from Philate. I’d swear
black was white to save myself, an' Annas
has his tabs on everything that happens here.
Said he'd get me off this fizzer, too, though it near
did for me that waiting, waiting, waiting for Caiphas
to slip the word among his plants out there;
till when I heard 'em scream, "Give us Barabbas!"
I thought they meant to lynch me.
Near as damn I ever came to praying then,
hearing the guard march in again
an’ turn the key. "Come out, you swine. You're free!"
he shouted down. "Come out, you swine, Barabbas!"
"You're joking, mate!" I says to him,
waiting the kick that bastard always gave.
"The devil saves his own!"
was all he said, an' I was shown
the open door.

When I got out, a slave
of Annas gave me wine, I felt so grim,
an' told me where to go till needed
next. I tell you, mate, I didn't want twice asking.
I scarpered here, an' here I stay,
the high-priest's lackey till I play
another part, fixing tax-men basking
in the Romans' might - as if Jews heeded
Roman laws. I spit upon their gentile rods
an’ fasces. I'm sworn to kill each traitor
publican, all Roman Jews
who lick the Caesar's boot.

But who's the character the great dictator
Pilate's hung between the two poor sods
who shared my cell with me?
Some rabbi from the north, a Galilean
prophet, so they say, some hazy
preacherman from Nazareth, a crazy
carpenter who thought he was the Son of God.

We'll learn the truth one day for sure.
The hanging-tree kills all illusion.
No lies hang on the cross. Stark truth alone
swings there, hammered with nails
till all hope ends and courage fails,
as iron rips the cracking bone
bared to the heat, and maddening flies
buzz like devils round your head
sucking the blood that soaks the cross
and cakes the hands and feet.
He'll know the truth through sweet
release that comes with death. His loss
my gain. His death my life, dying instead
of me, the one who Caiphas said must die
for all of us for calling himself Messiah.
Others called him miracle-man,
yet one thing's sure, he's carried the can
all right for me. He's gone through fire
to save us all, an' that's no lie.
I'll thank him for that, if nothing else!

(Based on St. John's Gospel, Chapter 18)


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