The Hanging Tree

The story of these bones is clear—
More than one deer was butchered here,
Hung from this limb then skinned and bled
By him the hunter, long since dead.

Look yonder as the crow does fly
And see the grave where he does lie
And ponder, just how very queer,
His bones should lie so very near.

From that same limb now hangs a swing
And from that swing grandchildren sing
The lilting songs that I once knew—
My bones tell me he knew them too.



The Centurion

I am a cold and brutal thing
Who, but for Caesar, has no king –
A member of his Roman Guard
For many years and I’ve grown hard.

Possessed by an unholy force,
I crucify with no remorse –
My aim is keen, my thrust is fierce.
It matters not whose side I pierce.

So that’s His mother standing there?
I’ve seen them all and I don’t care!
Don’t give a rat’s ass if she stares –
Let her say something, if she dares!

I cast the dice, His robe I win.
It’s weathered, torn and feather-thin,
Threadbare, and yet warmth from it flows
And in her eyes, I see she knows.



A Saint

Possessed by seven demons, she
Besought Our Lord to set her free
And in His great compassion, He
Did rid her of depravity.

In Heaven now, behold the cure—
She that was not is now most pure
And ponder, just what might have been—
The story of the Magdalene.




In the darkest night
Is there a poem to write
By the candle light?



Joe Tessitore is a retired New York City resident and poet.

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17 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    Joe,this looks to be a turning point for you. I have never seen you so involved with symbolism, and like the results. As to the poems, I like the Hanging Tree best of all. Congratulations !

  2. Gail

    These are great, Joe! In answer to the haiku–of course! There’s always more to make!

  3. Brian Yapko

    Joe, each of these poems is marvelous. I especially like The Hanging Tree which has a wonderful Frost-like quality coupled with some slightly disturbing subject-matter.

    The two biblical poems really grab me. The Mary Magdalene poem is quite moving. The Centurion is very thought-provoking and, in some ways, exciting in a dark, anti-spiritual way. I have two questions about characterization. Would the rough character of the centurion allow for him to respect Jesus with a capital “H” in “His?”. Also, would this centurion — who seems to have no concept of holiness — have the self-awareness that he was being “possessed by an unholy force?” Sorry for these quibbles because I really like this poem and just wondering what you think.

    These are all really well done!

    • Joe Tessitore

      Thanks, Brian – you’re spot on about the Frostian connection to “The Hanging Tree”.
      Queer/near is right out of “Stopping by a Woods …” – I knew it a split second after it came to me.

      The capitalization was me and not the Centurion. I won’t write it any other way.

      “Unholy” was entirely my cell phone. I wrote the poem with “inhuman” but my phone kept anticipating me with “unholy”, so in the end I just went with it.

      How crazy is that?

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Thank you for all of these, Mr Tessitore. Your 1st, though it is richer than my imagination, recalls to me days of driving CA99, trying to picture the scene as it might have been 200 years earlier. My compliments!
        And a complementary wish:
        By the dawn’s first light, Be there ever verse to write, Comfort in the night.
        And a bit of advice:
        Do not go gentle with the things you own: Rage, rage against the will of your cell phone.

    • Margaret Coats

      This is about Brian’s characterization question. In Joe’s poem, he puts three Gospel characters into one: the centurion in charge of the Crucifixion, the soldier who thrusts the spear, and the soldier who wins Jesus’ robe. In very early Christian works, the centurion and the spear thruster are both converts, and both are called Saint Longinus. The robe-winner (also converted) was named “Marcellus” and identified with the centurion in the 20th century novel, “The Robe.” Conversion begins with self-awareness of the need for conversion, and we might say Joe is picturing an early stage of that in this poem. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the centurion says, “This was indeed the Son of God” when he sees how Jesus dies. Thus Joe’s capitalization of the word “His,” spoken by the centurion, is supported by Scripture. Catholic tradition believes Mary was the weaver of Jesus’ robe, and simply because clothes were likely to be homemade in those times, Joe’s last line makes a great deal of sense. And Mary is Mediatrix of All Graces, including those that Joe’s centurion was receiving.

  4. Jeff Eardley

    Joe, from over here in England, these are brilliant. I love “The Hanging Tree” especially. Great to read all four.
    Thank you.

  5. Tonia Kalouria

    Joe, My fave is the Centurion and I marvel at how wonderfully smooth they all read.

  6. C.B. Anderson

    In the second stanza of “Hanging Tree” you twice used the pro-verb “does.” This is awkward, somewhat stilted English. You could easily have come up with something that uses the standard third-person singular flies/lies rhyme. Otherwise, I though all of these poems were pleasingly poignant.

    • Joe Tessitore

      I know that, for me, the read is everything in poetry and I do try to make my own poems as smooth as possible.
      I just re-read “The Hanging Tree” and found that I did the same thing just below the couplet that you mention – very queer/very near.

  7. Margaret Coats

    This is a fine collection, Joe. I enjoyed them all. Looked in my haiku books to see how Japanese masters treat darkness as a theme, and their procedure is yours. A dark night, some kind of light (a lantern, the stars, even fireflies), and some intriguing connection of the two. Masterfully done!

  8. Will Dunn

    Mr. Tessitore —

    I think you are moving away from your strengths in “The Hanging Tree”. You have uncharacteristically diminished cohesion, integrity, and simplicity of rhythm. The message is powerful as always, but the repetitious, irregular, and forced language seems awkwardly contrived, and it does not compact the story as well as you typically would. The telling of the tale should be more prominent than its poetic orchestration.

    I admire much of your other work posted elsewhere at SCP a great deal, and I think if you had gone about The Hanging Tree the same way, it would have sounded much more like the adaptation I have sketched below. My draft is not finely tuned, and it is not exactly how I believe you would have proceeded. You would likely have used more and simpler separate thoughts to much greater advantage.

    It is simply an effort to illustrate the sort of thought your other work has led me to anticipate. Your original first line, for example, uses “these” when you have not established its antecedent (subsequently implied as “deer”). But your story is cleverly about three sets of bones. Hence the more generic line I have shown.

    If this is not useful or detracts from your work in any way, please remove my comment entirely. I will continue to anticipate seeing your work here.


    The stories told by bones are clear.
    So many deer were slaughtered here
    from limb where they were skinned and bled
    to be the food for hunter fed

    whose bones are also laid nearby
    in grave he chose to have them lie
    so close to prey he knew would thrive
    for generations to survive

    until the limb could hold the swing
    where children would be heard to sing
    the songs that youth so well renew
    and parents feel in their bones too.

  9. Judy Potter

    Isn’t the centurion the one who said, ‘Surely this is the Son of God!”

    The image of hanging and skinning a deer vs the image of a child on a swing singing nursery rhymes, polar opposites. When I saw the title of the poem, I thought it might be about something even more gruesome. By the way, having roots in Vermont, Frost is one of my favorite poets, .


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