Richard Harris (1930-2002)


This great poem by the late actor and singer Richard Harris was given a superb dramatic reading by the author on his 1973 LP record entitled His Greatest Performances. It’s available on his CD entitled The Anthology 1968-1974: Man of Words. The various place names, the “orange” and the “green,” and the fact that Harris was Irish, made it obvious his specific subject was the conflict between Protestant and Catholic in Northern Ireland. Like all great poetry though, it rings true in a much broader context.



There Are Too Many Saviors on My Cross

There are too many saviors on my cross,
lending their blood to flood out my ballot box with needs of their own.
Who put you there?
Who told you that that was your place?

You carry me secretly naked in your heart
and clothe me publicly in armor
crying “God is on our side,” yet I openly cry
Who is on mine?
Who?
Tell me, who?
You who bury your sons and cripple your fathers
whilst you bury my father in crippling his son.

The antiquated Saxon sword,
rusty in its scabbard of time now rises—
you gave it cause in my name,
bringing shame to the thorned head
that once bled for your salvation.

I hear your daily cries
in the far-off byways in your mouth
pointing north and south
and my Calvary looms again,
desperate in rebirth.
Your earth is partitioned,
but in contrition
it is the partition
in your hearts that you must abolish.

You nightly watchers of Gethsemene
who sat through my nightly trial delivering me from evil—
now deserted, I watch you share your silver.
Your purse, rich in hate,
bleeds my veins of love,
shattering my bone in the dust of the bogside and the Shankhill road.

There is no issue stronger than the tissue of love,
no need as holy as the palm outstretched in the run of generosity,
no monstrosity greater than the acre you inflict.
Who gave you the right to increase your fold
and decrease the pastures of my flock?
Who gave you the right?
Who gave it to you?
Who?
And in whose name do you fight?

I am not in heaven,
I am here,
hear me.
I am in you,
feel me.
I am of you,
be me.
I am with you,
see me.
I am for you,
need me.
I am all mankind;
only through kindness will you reach me.

What masked and bannered men can rock the ark
and navigate a course to their annointed kingdom come?
Who sailed their captain to waters that they troubled in my font,
sinking in the ignorant seas of prejudice?

There is no virgin willing to conceive in the heat of any bloody Sunday.
You crippled children lying in cries on Derry’s streets,
pushing your innocence to the full flush face of Christian guns,
battling the blame on each other,
do not grow tongues in your dying dumb wounds speaking my name.
I am not your prize in your death.
You have exorcized me in your game of politics.

Go home to your knees and worship me in any cloth,
for I was never tailor-made.
Who told you I was?
Who gave you the right to think it?
Take your beads in your crippled hands,
can you count my decades?
Take my love in your crippled hearts,
can you count the loss?

I am not orange.
I am not green.
I am a half-ripe fruit needing both colors to grow into ripeness,
and shame on you to have withered my orchard.
I in my poverty,
alone without trust,
cry shame on you
and shame on you again and again
for converting me into a bullet and shooting me into men’s hearts.

The ageless legend of my trial grows old
in the youth of your pulse staggering shamelessly from barricade to grave,
filing in the book of history my needless death one April.
Let me, in my betrayal, lie low in my grave,
and you, in your bitterness, lie low in yours,
for our measurements grow strangely dissimilar.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
sullied be thy name.