by Suzanne Carroll-La Follette
This persona poem by Khalid The Future ties together the many stories of Saint Peter while dipping in and out of the St Peter's voice, using modern dialect and hip-hop rhythm at poignant moments in the poem to connect to his audience. Although, in the first few lines Khalid introduces himself as Peter, "The Rock," if he were to actually maintain the voice and dialect of Saint Peter he would sound like the King James bible and this could easily cause a slam poetry audience to fall asleep. Khalid knows his audience and continued the poem in his style while still sharing the stories of Saint Peter from a first person perspective.
Slam poems with Christian themes seem to be few and far between and I imagine Khalid wanted to share Peter's story and perspective without preaching to the audience. As a poet, he needed a delicate balance of history, energy and love for his subject matter to come across well on the stage and he succeeded with this poem.
Line by line this poem delves into the history of Saint Peter. Khalid knows his bible stories and knows how to write about them. "Can someone shut this rooster up? I'm trying to talk here," he repeats as a refrain throughout the poem. The refrain, even if you didn't catch the meaning still brings an urgency throughout the poem as the speaker tries to share his perspective while this pesky rooster continues to crow. The line comes from Jesus' prediction during the last supper that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crows. Once Peter denied him three times, he heard the rooster crow, realized what he had done, and began to repent immediately.
Khalid braids the stories of Saint Peter as a fisherman, a disciple of Jesus, a witness to Jesus walking on water, "It's like the water lost its self esteem the way Jesus walked all over it." He tells the stories of Jesus feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fish, the healing of diseased followers, the raising of Lazarus, "Add the muscle, apply the skin and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't stop Jesus from putting Lazarus back together again." Khalid uses Saint Peter's perspective to account for the miracles of Jesus, just as Peter would have watched in awe of these miracles. His use of Humpty Dumpty as a familiar nursery rhyme and the story of Lazarus create a crescendo of energy mid-poem. The nursery rhyme is accessible and familiar while the vivid imagery of putting a human body back together again piece by piece creates a captivating moment for the audience.
Shortly after that Khalid breaks character even further by addressing the audience with, "Let me slow down before I halle-lose-yah." This check in with the audience is self-aware and causes a moment of pause, and laughter. But he doesn't stop long before he launches into his final crescendo of images of angels walking up, "...like fifty deep." These intentional breaks in language, bringing the modern to biblical stories, not only helps the audience to relate but also adds a bit of humor to the poem. Then he builds up to one of the strongest lines of the poem, "How you gonna fight something you can't see?" It's a question Khalid never answers but rather allows it to hang in the air for a moment before he continues. With an open-ended line like this the audience begins to fill in the blanks, possibly seeing their own demons, their own battles.
Khalid ends the poem with another break in the persona that becomes a challenge to the audience. "Yeah, you seen the paintings but have you ever talked to him? You read the book but have you ever walked with him?" This line brings us back to modern times as the book and the paintings that he is referring to did not exist in Peter's lifetime. Yet, these moves seem intentional on Khalid's part, again addressing the audience, challenging them to think about their relationship with Jesus. At the close Khalid could have left it there, became a preacher, guided the audience to do what he, as a poet, thought they should do, but he doesn't. That's the greatest part. Again, he leaves that open, a two line challenge, then he reminds us that he has walked with Jesus and washed his feet because he is Peter, Jesus called him "The Rock," as in the rock of the church. This gentle use of persona gave Khalid the cover that he needed to share this perspective of Jesus from, not his, but Peter's eyes. The audience leaves with a refresher on biblical history, and few questions to ponder on their own.