“Whoever would deny me before men,”
You said once, “I, too, will deny
Before my Father God in heaven.”
I denied you
In one night,
Left you alone to die
And ran outside to cry,
A grown man like a child.
I warned you once beside a treasure-haul of fish,
“Away from me! I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
You told me not to be afraid.
You said we’d fish together, filled my hands
With broken bread and scraps of fish
To feed the hungry crowds — I touched your miracles.
I promised I would go with you
To prison and to death
But all my courage died there, cold beside that fire.
Yet now, at dawn, you come to me
With breakfast on the beach
And bid my lips repeat, three times, “I love you.”
“Follow me,” you said once
By a treasure-haul of fish;
“Follow me,” you say again — even after this.
This poem on the life of Peter was inspired by the moving final scene of John’s gospel. It is structured as a chiasmus—which, after the Greek letter χ (chi), uses inverted parallelism to highlight key concepts and create interplay between paired stanzas. The poem’s nine stanzas can be thought of as: A B C D X D’ C’ B’ A’.
Though most of the poem (like much of our lives) is a tangle of frail ambitions, fears, and failures, the fixed bookends are the unshakeable words of Jesus. Even in the dejected sigh at the poem’s center — the words “I am” expressing Peter’s fear of his inevitable failure — we hear a whisper of the One who is able to forgive us and use us ... even (perhaps only) when we feel that we are unworthy of the task.