Poetry

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Peter

by Lionel E. Deimel

 

Peter, Peter, Bible scholar,

Organist with priestly collar,

Author, mentor, teacher, friend—

We will not see your like again!

 

Peter, Peter, Web guru,

Advocate for Paul’s own view,

Cheerful, confident, and bold—

We hadn’t thought of you as old.

 

Peter, Peter, though you’ve gone,

Your teaching and your love live on,

And you, not bound by life’s constraints,

Are with us in the cloud of saints.
 

Banner from Peter's Web site "As Paul tells it ..."
 
I only met J. Peter Bercovitz after his retirement as Professor of Religion at West Virginia Wesleyan College. He had moved to the Pittsburgh area and had begun attending my church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Peter sang with me in the choir, and he occasionally filled in as organist when our regular organist was out of town. Peter taught a class at St. Paul’s about New Testament parables, in which I was a participant and from which I learned much about serious biblical scholarship. We talked about theological matters from time to time, and Peter eventually asked me to help him develop a Web site about the Apostle Paul. Thus began
As Paul tells it ..., a site devoted to Paul—Peter eventually branched out and included material directly related to Jesus, as well—which was informed by the commonsense notion that Paul’s own writings about his activities are likely to be a better historical source than material in Acts concerning the same events. Once I had set up Peter’s Web site and created a few representative pages, Peter took over most of the maintenance himself, requiring only occasionally help from me.

As both an organist and Episcopal priest, Peter could not resist the call to leave St. Paul’s and fill in in one of these capacities at other churches. I didn’t see him much once he left, but I performed occasionally tasks related to Peter’s Web site, and I telephoned him whenever I had theological questions or when Peter wanted an update on the latest Episcopal Church politics. I was, of course, distressed to learn in 2004 that Peter had been diagnosed with lymphoma, but I was pleased that his treatment seemed to go well. Nevertheless, Peter continued to have medical problems, and he died on November 21, 2005, of what, as of now, are uncertain causes.

More information about Peter can be found on the “Meet the Author” page of his Web site.

It did not take me long to think of writing a poem about Peter, as I had done for another friend who was cut down by leukemia (see “Frank”). It did, however, take me a while to figure out where to start. I went to bed a week after Peter died thinking about a poem, and I woke up in the middle of the night with ideas for what became the first stanza of “Peter.” The hardest part of writing a poem is usually finding some structure for it—unless, of course, one begins with structure and needs to search for content, which is even harder—and the essential idea that allowed me to develop this poem was that of using the nursery rhyme “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater” as a point of departure. Arguably, this was not a very dignified place to begin, but, in the end, it seems to have worked. I wrote the poem on November 30, 2005, but I struggled with a number of lines, particularly the first two of the final stanza. I wrote perhaps half a dozen versions of the second line without being satisfied by any, either because of the words or because of the meter. The next day, however, I found a beginning for the stanza that said more and did so idiomatically and in better rhythm. Those lines are incorporated into the version shown here.

— LED, 12/2/2005

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