Thief? A euphemism,
brings to mind a sly child picking pockets at a market,
not this burly, naked thug strapped to a cross.
Robber? That’s more like it,
taking what he wants by force,
thinking that the world owes him a living.
Bandit? So the story goes. His name is Dismas:
lived in caves above the desert road,
feasted on the milk and meat of stolen goats
or, most days, scraped by,
roasting forbidden rat and lizard flesh.
Always a man to whom the rules did not apply.
It has been said, a killer, too.
Murdered his own brother.
His former boss, Gestas
(if you believe the legend)
slumps against another cross;
teeth bared, drooling like a cornered cur,
set to fight to the death, which will be,
for him, a long time coming.
And between them,
not Barabbas, their old ally, but
this other Jesus:
who claims to be a king – no, more than that –
‘Are you Messiah?
save yourself, and us!’
The rage in Gestas’ words
spreads like fire;
Dismas feels its heat
surge through him,
and concentrate into a shout:
‘Go on, Messiah! Save yourself, and us!’
The man sags; a sigh escapes.
All he’s saving is his breath.
Gestas does not relent;
obscenities increasing in intensity,
spat out again, again, again.
The sky cracks open; streaks of light
marbling discoloured cloud.
Curses cool to ashes in his throat;
not for the first time, fear of the Wrath
racks Dismas, centres on the certainty
that God is just indeed,
gives him courage to confront
the snarling robber king with his,
with their, wrongdoing,
and its right, its proper consequence.
this man, this innocent,
this other-worldly king,
inclines his head, holds Dismas’ gaze.
‘When you come into your kingdom,’
Dismas says, ‘remember me’.
(Regret’s too small and too polite a word;
penitence, too meek.)
‘Jesus, remember me’. That’s all he asks.
It is enough.
© Marion Adams 2016