A poem for Easter: The Bad Thief

A new poem by John O’Donnell

‘Christ on the Cross between the two Thieves’, 17th century. At the foot of the cross are the Virgin Mary with St John the Apostle (left) and Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Cleophas (right). From the Musee des Beaux Arts, Pau, France. Photograph: Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images

‘Christ on the Cross between the two Thieves’, 17th century. At the foot of the cross are the Virgin Mary with St John the Apostle (left) and Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Cleophas (right). From the Musee des Beaux Arts, Pau, France. Photograph: Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images

 

We’d had to wait while someone went for nails.
The soldiers stood around us, eating dates.
I’d seen him once before, and heard the stories,
though how on earth he’d ended up like this,
with the two of us for company, I don’t know.
A wind that smelt of hyssop-leaves. When I offered him
my hand one big bruiser clanked his sword.
“Word is,” I whispered, “you could save us all.
Well, now’s your chance!” Admit it: you’d have done
the same. But he just sighed: “Too late for me,
though not for you.” His pale hand small in mine
as they came towards us with the hammer. One
redeemed, and one condemned
, some hack scribbled later.
But what was there between us in the end?

  • John O’Donnell’s new collection Sunlight: New and Selected Poems will be published by Dedalus next month