Reflections of a Prefect

October 20, 2015

Written by Rod Beecham

I’ve always hated Passover,

the slightest twitch rippling the Sanhedrin beards,

rustling the people like a cornfield

hiding a wolf.

Some maverick preacher, no political threat,

quiet, in his own world

(where I’d like to be),

but they wanted his blood.

Claudia talked of bad dreams,

said he mustn’t be killed.

I don’t have dreams:

I collect taxes.

Pay or be punished and no religious babble.

I rather liked the man:

quiet, well-spoken, no political threat.

Priests yelled and waved their arms

aped by the stinking mob

like spasms of Caiaphas’ fingers.

So he had to die.  But not by order.

The fellow spoke of truth

as if someone cares.

Truth is a stretched cord

between the Temple and the fortress.

When the priests’ fingers pull

I jerk like a servant.

Had I the men to crush their grip!

Ana partes aequales High Priest and prefect dig downhill,

maintaining flow, bypassing bumps,

or hollowing out rocks

like Caiaphas’ convictions.

I soaped the Sadducees from my hands

as dirt from old coins.

I put words on the cross, ambiguous words,

I am not to be used.

Here, in my fortress, I am master.

Quid est veritas?

I see a harmless man,

the Jews see a blasphemer.

If I look at a coin in the sun

the Emperor’s head gleams,

dulling in the shade.

A goat on the rocks

is hair, horn and eyes,

in the kitchen, blood, flesh and fascia.

I see further than the dogs in the streets

but their noses sense what I do not.

When the city is quiet

at night, with empty streets,

the sky soft, the guards nodding,

a breeze rustling my drapes,

the moon rippling in the pools of Bethesda,

David’s tomb puncturing the stars,

I understand my wife and her dreams.

Someone in the east, they say,

centuries ago,

unencumbered by taxes (he was a prince),

found wisdom under a tree.

My wisdom is this fortress

where happiness is solid.

In the night,

when the trees stir

and the frogs give voice

like a guttural chant from Picenum,

my home,

I look upon the city and the hills beyond,

I can be, for a moment.

Stomach full, soft bed, my sleep secure.

Taxes make order.  The aqueduct.

My clever engineer and his lines,

shapes, pressure and resistance,

he made numbers of them all, like me.

Should I listen to my wife?

Soldiers are the men for priests.

Could I but wrench that cord!

Why did that quiet man,

that small sacrifice to public order,

stir me to mercy?

What do I know

that I don’t know,

that tells me it’s false?

How can a silence speak?


Rod Beecham was educated at Monash and Oxford and took his doctorate from the University of Melbourne.  In 2014 he presented a paper to the English Association’s centenary conference at Oxford on the poetry of the First World War.  His essay, ‘Confecting a British Identity’, was published in Rosenthal and Rodic (eds.), The New Nationalism and the First World War (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).  His essay, ‘Fiction and Memoir of Britain’s Great War: Disillusioned or Disparate?’, will be published in the next issue of the European Review of History.  Rod is a Literature Lecturer in the Trinity College Foundation Studies Programme.

One Response to “Reflections of a Prefect”

  1. […] of poems by Rod Beecham, Danny Fahey, Nazanin Ghodrati and Talitha Fraser who respectively in Reflections of a Perfect, Drowning, The Brick Choir and Untitled  present a defamiliarised version of the everyday struggle […]

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