Why is Saint Sebastian so blithe?
He does not flinch as arrows puncture him
So tastefully through trunk and limb.
He does not groan, he does not writhe.
The expression of the archers is more grim.
One aims a crossbow (not invented yet,
But deadly accurate). He does not fire his dart
Unerringly at the martyr’s heart.
Have the bowmen been told to drag it out
So that the victim is fit material for art?
How can Sebastian stay so serene?
He seems to stand there and to meditate,
Strapped to a tree and stoically wait
For the next barbed shaft to whistle in.
Is this what makes a saint? To yield to fate
With superb indifference? Is it God’s grace
That lets a tormented man display no agony?
I have seen men die in pain and not go quietly.
The saint seems already in a far-off place.
Or is he stoned on hash or heroin or LSD?
But all transcendence cannot be a trick
Nor can we distort truth by being frivolous
Or downplay disaster when it’s racking us.
Take a style too far and it turns slick.
But not all posture is powerless.
The squad of soldiers grasp what it is about:
They have a man to torture and to sanctify,
His job to take the piercing pain and die,
To earn eternity by not crying out.
Death is the route. The blessed arrows fly.
Saint Sebastian by Rory Brennan won Third Prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2018) judged by Roger Elkin