• Jonathan Chan

PHOTO: Roman Pohorecki, 2015. (license) beach bare feet slowly sift through powdered sand, crackling cinders rise to the abyss, across the silhouettes of austere cliffs, the crashing waves in tortured prosody. flickering eyes upon pulsating embers the twisted body resting once again, cross-legged by the steady charcoal fire. a baleful gaze upon an ashen face that turns away before a word is shared. the shadows dance on a familiar scene, the looming figures on a rocky screen. for shame reveals itself in every question, the precipice of anguished certainty. i only hear my lips that can’t escape, but know there is a patchwork of deceit. the tongues of fire lash a tightened heart, the sweat and tears begin to mingle down a head that bows in wordlessness, fatigue that fills the ears upon the second question. the mind that knows a non-tautology, the reckoning it inches slightly nearer. a hand emerges washed across the fire, the scars that glisten mask a sordid show. the final question held in fire’s grasp, the same that brings a breaking of my knees. the words that open up a weeping heart, the heat that burns and burns an inner rust. the swift embrace that knows and never leaves, the daily journey to that quiet beach. On ‘beach’ I wrote this poem one Sunday after listening to a sermon at church in Cambridge about repentance. The preacher likened repentance to a process of returning to a beach each day to sit by the fireside with Christ and engage in conversation, one strained by the knowledge of having failed Him again. This affective set of images was taken from the Gospel of John. In chapter 18 of John, in response to being asked if he knew Jesus, who was undergoing a criminal trial, his friend and disciple Peter denied knowing him three times. The shame of this betrayal leads Peter to flee into hiding, anguished by the torture he could not help to allay. In chapter 21, after his resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples on the shore by the Sea of Galilee. They convene at the beach for a breakfast of fish and bread cooked over a fire of burning coals. Afterwards, Jesus asks Peter, ‘Do you love me’, thrice. It is this questioning that forces Peter to confront the pain of having denied Jesus, to gaze into the abyss of guilt, and yet to affirm that he does love him. Jesus tenderly forgives Peter, restoring their relationship and appointing him to be His messenger to the world. This renewed sense of purpose compels Peter to become a founding figure of the Christian church. That image of Peter, sweating by a sweltering fire, burrowing within his psyche to contend with remorse and emerging to breathe once again has remained with me ever since.


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