Prayer for the Celebrity’s Purgatory

October 9, 2009 at 2:19 pm Leave a comment

I wrote this poem in response to the death of Michael Jackson this past summer.

I was not a fan of the music (that is, since the 80s, when I with most others had “Thriller” at least in the soundtrack of my life), but I always felt that he was either celebrated or vilified unjustly; people projected onto him what they wished to believe.

My prayer is that he is even now learning more of and experiencing God’s grace and forgiveness. But the poem could be voiced by any celebrity – anyone upon whom we project our hopes and fears about our present and future.

Prayer for the Celebrity’s Purgatory

There are no eyes that watch me in this place.
Did I not spend my earthly life in faith
that when the people saw me and adored,
their adulation brought its own reward?

But truth be told, that faith was never sure.
I was bound up, I know – could not break free.
The whole of life, from youth, was on a stage.
The habits of the child live into age

and tempter’s lies so sweet are hard to leave.
At least I grew suspicious of the scripts:
all different in detail, all ends the same.
The cameras flashed, the headlines claimed my fame.

They called me Genius, Rebel, Superstar.
They sold the tickets, albums – made the lies
more sure that told me I must ever shine.
I don’t know just what time it was, the line

I crossed – I only know that soon the cameras
found faults and sins would suit them just as well.
The pundits made me famous; just the same,
they were the ones who now invoked my name

in shock and shame – to titillate, to blame,
to mock, to mourn, to wonder at the waste,
sell and profit, shake the head, move on in haste:
Next victim! in the sacrificial game.

Upon the altar which they built for me
they set me up, they worshiped and adored;
and then, my sin and shame exposed, they gorged
themselves upon my naked, bloody flesh.

Can namelessness be grace? A start afresh?
For I can guess the stories that they tell
now that I sing in heaven, or in hell.
My corpse may rot; my memory may still

the needful place upon the victim’s altar fill.
Now that I’m gone, they feast upon this dinner –
“Gifted, brilliant! But was he saint or sinner?
Do blessed ones remove their shining halos

as he draws near, and laud him for his gifts?
Or rather, do the demons from the rifts
rise, flay him in just payment for his crimes?”
I once believed that death would bring the same –

Shouts to praise (or curse, condemn) my famous name.
But if I could, I’d tell them we were wrong.
There are no eyes that watch me in this place,
no ears that beg the singing of my song,

no mouths that speak of me, no deference
nor reference to me, no making sense
of me, blessed, cursed, or misbegotten soul.
They’re giving me no part to play, no starring role –

I’m merely fellow penitent and friend.
I’m neither king nor god, thank God! I’m no
anointed, no pariah – just a man.
I’m making sense of this as best I can.

The habits of the child live into age
and tempter’s lies so sweet are hard to leave,
but I believe I’ve come to disbelieve
the speaking of my name in praise or rage.

But here, one Name is spoken, if at all.
Our ears are pricked to hear His forward call.
O strange, O new, amazing, glorious grace!
There are no eyes that watch me in this place.

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