Ron Smith

Early Christianity: A Poem | Rome
December 9, 2012 Smith Ron

Early Christianity: A Poem  

                                                                        for Jim Hall &  Frank Eakin


OK, says James, let them keep their foreskins.

So Paul bows to Big J’s brother, departs

for Antioch–but there has a run-in

with the Fisherman over who can share

a table. Paul’s off in a huff round Mare

Nostrum, a decade tour beating the Jesus drum.

The city boy sends out his Timothys

to spy on the middle classes. Titus

sighs, So many preachers, so few Jesus

folk to go around.

   Dead, alive, gone, coming

back, Jesus is in the neighborhood, mind

your Ps and Qs.

And Paul has made a killing,

lugs the loot back home where trouble’s brewing

in David’s city, the brethren rounded up and

dealt with. What the hell? says Paul, shambling

in chains past marching armies. Zealots, Essenes

dash themselves to pieces against the robot Romans.

Josephus cries, The jig is up! No one listens. Then,

there’re heads and arms everywhere and chunks

of God knows what, whimpering. Flames, flames,

and more flames, even the Temple up in flames.

The legions glitter with blades and booty,

settle in around Masada. Dead, dead,

even the earth is dead here, they mutter,

squint at the sheer rock in the sky, thirsty,

but patient.

  All over Palestine priests

evaporate, rabbis rise. So where is

this Jesus? Dead forty years now. Write this down,

write what Paul said, what you heard in the marketplace.


Sing of your sorrow, sweet singing of Paul’s

saying . . .


Mark this: It’s all Greek to them who

hardly care that the Temple’s gone. Mark that

J tossed off miracles with the best of them

and riddled their heads with parables, revealing

and concealing himself and his halo.

What did he want? Death: His side pierced, his temple

dismantled. The gold standard for losing.

Why, oh why, did he ever leave the Galilee,

us, the tomb? Mark that those who tell the tale

did not queue up to hear Him speak of The End.

As the clock hands one day will sweep, the story

changes: Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch,

Damascus, Jerusalem, Alexandria,



   Matthew hits the Jewish bull’s-eye,

horizon still smoking, and Jesus climbing

a mountain, dumping on the Pharisees,

sending the dead apostles on missions

over the earth.

       Cool Luke earns a profit

with his Scholar who gets the axe. Enchanting

physician, he can whip up a storm, cure

the gospels’ Greek. Synagogues seethe.

He plunks his yarn plump near the Palatine,

leaves his Paul breathing and booming.


J soothes his auditors, enlightens, runs

the show. John passes on the Passover,

hangs his J high, a lamb among lambs, but

with a better view. Torah, torah, torah,

scream the Jews round the Med’s rim, hounding

the Jesus folk out of the assembly . . .

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Hadrian haters

harvest the whirlwind—chop chop, the rebels

again vanish into bloody messes.

Not our fight say the J folk to the Big Wigs.

Extremists, they, who won’t render unto

You, stuck in the past, blind to the present.

We know what’s what and how to get along.




                        in memory of Jerry Donato


You’re sick of Correggios crowding

the permanent collections, crashing

Bassano’s Ultima Cena with its

funny, sleepy, drunk apostles.


You look down at your reliable wrist

and there’s nothing, fog bank, niente,

nada, zip. Where your pulse beats,

there it is: The Void.


It’s time to look wildly around. Beetling

Berninis! Mammoth marbles! You’re

squeezed by grotesquely sweet angels!

Have you drifted


into Sant’Andrea della Fratte where

the kitsch shall be with you always?

Doubt not, Pilgrim, but poke your finger

through the stone


spectacles on this padre’s cold face.

A dozen placid profiles mesmerized

by a Tiepoloed Madonna are watching,

watching as if she were


dancing. Something in your head or heart

or optic nerve’s on the fritz. The Virgin’s

flanked by the Jew who rose a Christian

right there and the priest


who’ll never need an eye chart again.

A pretty nun in a crisp habit the color

of putty takes the vases away,

brings them back full


of plastic lilies. The seated faithful still

don’t turn their eyes toward

the living. You snap, discreetly,

the evidence, then wait


in the cloister to see if the one guidebook

can possibly be right, the one that claims

Borromini’s campanile rotates

when it rings. Doric silence


marches round you. Noon has come

and gone, it must have, but the bells

hold their ponderous tongues.

You plunge out


into the searing light, your Ironman

swimming  before your eyes. It’s

still blank o’clock and nothing

will ever happen again.

Ron Smith’s book That Beauty in the Trees was published in 2023 by Louisiana State University Press. His The Humility of the Brutes, Its Ghostly Workshop, and Moon Road were also published by LSU. Smith’s poems have appeared in many periodicals, including The Nation, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, Five Points, and Arts of War & Peace (Université Paris Diderot). He is currently Consultant in Poetry and Prose at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Virginia, and Poetry Editor for Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature. In recent years he has partnered with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to present poems associated with Man Ray’s Paris years and its “The Horse in Ancient Greek Art” exhibit. From 2014 to 2016 Smith was the Poet Laureate of Virginia.