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April 13, 2022

Take This Cup

The bright flash of red he poured in their cups, squeezed
from flesh of bursting grapes in proud Judean vineyards,
was wine passed among them for centuries
in joyful celebrations, with dancing and music—
and he called it “my blood.”
And he said, “Remember me.”

Remember me, he surely meant, always,
but also a few hours from then, when they,
humanly drowsy and falling asleep in nature’s night,
cannot help him pray his way free
from the thought of a more terrible cup,
a cup thick and bitter enough to gag on.

Right now, as he hangs by his wounds from a Roman cross,
that’s a cup he might settle for, a cup of anything,
a thimble, a stick to suck. Struggling to cry out
from a swollen throat scorched by God’s anger—
anger not with him who hangs there but with us—
he rasps only two cleave-tongued words: I thirst.

Two words from Immanuel, from “God-with-us,” two words
that are shaped by human flesh. The redemption is heavy—
it comes not by our heavenward flights but by his having
come down. Not the spirituality of humans but the humanity of God.

Well, it’s Friday. Two more days and we can choose
to shout and raise our cups, click our glasses
brimming with full-bodied earthy wines that smack of soul—
miracle wines that sing and make us sing.

—Rod Jellema, © 2010. Used by permission.

Rod Jellema (1927-2018) was a poet and professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, where he was the founding director of the university's creative writing program. His books of poetry include A Slender Grace, Something Tugging the Line, The Lost Faces, The Eighth Day, and Incarnality: The Collected Poems. Jellema was the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo and the National Endowment for the Arts. His work was awarded the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Contest, the Pieter Jelles Prize, and a Columbia University Translation Prize for his translations of Frisian poetry.