It was the illustration by Ricardo Bessa that originally drew me to Anthony Oliveira’s [pictured] short and poetic “Dayspring.” The image caught my eye as I scrolled down the front page of Hazlitt: browns and tans and reds, one man lying on another’s chest, their beards brushing; the embracing figures exude warmth and intimacy as sunlight filters through leaves above them. The story behind this depiction imagines (an unnamed) John, “the disciple whom he loved,” as Jesus’ lover in the days before the crucifixion.
Writing in short poetic bursts, Oliveira roots the story in two religious parables or folktales, one involving a donkey, the other involving a nun. The conversation shows Jesus’ words in red, the two speaking in modern vernacular, including “dudes” and “what the fucks,” making the characters more relatable. The red is striking on the screen whenever Jesus speaks, and these two stories give us something to come back to—something to be anchored to in the chaos that follows.
I couldn’t help thinking of Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles while reading “Dayspring” as both pieces of writing display a mythological queer relationship of love and gentleness with a strong foreshadowing of violence and tragedy. Knowing the story of Jesus and his crucifixion, you can guess where Oliveira ends up taking us: to Gethsemane where everything falls apart, where Jesus is arrested, and the chain of events leading to his death begins, only this time we see it through the eyes of the one he loved.
While the piece is short and a sparsely written, the language is strong and beautifully built up. Oliveira writes with a poetic voice that eases readers in and creates the warmth that Ricardo Bessa’s illustrations kindle.