Germanicus leapt upon the wild lion in Smyrna,
wishing to pass quickly from a lawless life.
The crowd shook the stadium.
The proconsul marvelled.
‘Eighty & six years have I been his servant,
and he has done me no harm.
How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’
Polycarp, John’s pupil, facing the fire.
Make too me acceptable at the end of time
in my degree, which then Thou wilt award.
Cancer, senility, mania,
I pray I may be ready with my witness.
This poem first appeared in the September 18, 1970, issue of Commonweal.
Related: Tormented Witness: John Berryman's Addresses to God, by Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill