Pilate questioned Jesus.
Jesus questioned back.
Pilate questioned him again—
The cool Socratic tack.
Their repartee was candid,
A pointed give-and-take.
It was not clear if its last word
Was freely willed or fated.
When Jesus chose to answer
And give the reason why,
Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
Enough about the distant posting among barbarians,
Enough about having to arbitrate their quarrels,
Enough about their religions—about any religion—
Enough about whatever was going on at home, with the family,
When it came time for the intellectual push and pull
He had everything covered, riposte and response,
The tools of dialectic, a question for a question.
He said no more to this princeling of an obscure cause
But turned to the crowd and asked them what they wanted.
Did he win the debate? Do as fated? Make a cosmic mistake?
Inside me I believe there is
A Pilate questioning Jesus
And a Jesus answering.
Or no Pilate. Or no Jesus.
These two people, powers of their time,
Faced off like a major city and an earthquake.
The city has endured so many earthquakes,
The earthquake’s always virgin with a city.
One says it’s coming. One must rather doubt it.
And the city shakes down on its tens of thousands.
But here’s the thing: the city is rebuilt
With the same name, perhaps with earthquake codes.
The earthquake will not come again for centuries.
And the city stands again, where it has stood.
No wonder the city doubts its own destruction.
How can you live, except to doubt your death?
To feel your whole body is the truth,
To feel you are the truth and more than truth,
Your feet, your toes, the shinbone and the knee
Are true and more than true, to be the truth,
Standing on your own feet, and riding hips
As true as they were ever meant to be,
The rest going upward, through the groin,
The functional, true genitals, the belly
Spread with its pubic hair all true, all true,
And up the ridged divided abdomen,
Between the nipples, truly loving touch,
The clavicles with their delicacy and music,
The arms and hands and fingers with their reach,
The tower of the neck, as Solomon says,
The identifiable face, your face,
The ears to hear both the outer and inner voices,
The mouth, the speaker of the truth, the nose,
True to its compass bearings, smelling falsehoods,
The eyes looking into the puzzled eyes
Of one you’ve scared into urgent reasoning—
To feel that you embody the whole truth
And then to know that truth is going to be beaten,
Beaten to the bone, skeletonized,
And hang like a limp rag, as dead as rope—
To be this truth completely, unadorned,
Real as the hand before another’s face,
And have that other still say, “What is truth?”
But there is more.
There’s always more.
The score’s not settled.
There is more.
One shuts the door.
One strikes the door,
Outside the door.
What is truth for?
What is it for
For those who worry
What it is for?
Who pace the floor,
The shifting floor
Of air and fury,
Like a classroom floor.
Who mark the hour,
The frozen hour
Of the last word,
As the first hour?
And what is power
That once was power
In an old word
With a new power?
The teachable moment.
The last judgment occurring
Again and again as a teachable moment.
But what moment ever lasted long enough
To learn anything? This moment.
This poem was selected for The Best Spiritual Writing 2013.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.