St Matthew Passion

A bit late since Easter has now passed but it records an experience when singing this Bach masterpiece in the centre of Wolverhampton UK.

We had arrived in sunshine –

One of those days when Summer

Looks in, unexpected at the back door.

Our minds however were in the shade

Of this solemn monument,

This foundation stone of received wisdom,

This anthem of the elite.

We stood together in the comfort of our age,

Open mouthed, singing the songs

In their heaviness, woven around

The certainty of death

And the unshakeable testimony

Of powerful voices. The oboe’s chocolate

Flow piped its tragedy to the eaves.

The church faded, grubby, dusty,

The sunlight found no purchase on these walls.

Reverence filled the pews.

But this was a city church

And death must take its place

Beneath the roister of trade,

The shunting for position

And the contained explosions of escape.

In the silence between the notes

A growl grows until the earth shakes

And a monstrous savagery, a scream

Of bone and flesh, a leather clad

‘Fuck you͛ roars around us.

No one moves,

The music goes on.

We might prefer our encounter with this death

To be cradled in a cloister

But he did die amidst the raucous shouts,

The cruelty, the neglect of a city͛s anxiety.

The Death Bed

Death stares unflinching beneath the dry rasp

Of airless rooms. Bones stretch the skin

To force their gaping will to the light.

Thingness triumphs, movement stops, the cold clasp

Of time freezes over warm exchange to thin

Slivers of memory in the night.

 

 

“͚Is that a fact?͛” he said, standing beneath

The budded tree. Careless colours

Claim their hour above the killing fields;

Songs are not unsung; they find their own breath

In voices in new choirs; rage hollers

Its defiance and the black night yields.

 

 

And does death blink? Its hunger satisfied

In the warming sun? Do the stars smile

And kiss each other in their cradles?

The black hole beckons, time͛s devouring tide

Sweeps all things down the unforgiving aisle

Crushing the lies of song and fable.
“͚And yet we live͛” he said, and hear the cry

Of those who love, the cry that drowns out

Oblivion͛s rattle with hot tears,

The songs of sadness and endeavour fly

Beyond the reach of death͛s leer, the shout

Of life lingers ringing in our ears.

The Circle and the Stone

Round up the wagons
Build the round houses
We’re back in the time of the henges
When restless folk shift
Through the unknown

 
Once we could swagger
Coins in our pocket
Our futures packed safe in countries
Where killing hides, boxed,
Regulated

 
Squared off, rectilinear – a ͚rightness͛
Claimed for stability and ownership
Of place – ͚right͛ angles established the rights
On which certainty we could stand, explore
And harvest the exotic, the playful.

 
There was no need for
Circles defending
The hope for our tribe͛s survival.
But watch the dead hand
Write on the wall.

Tuesday 17th February 2004 Bridgnorth

 

Across the brown artery,

the water stirred and swollen to a level

beyond our resistance,

I walked alone up the cobbled street,

Imagination closed,

roller shutters down,

hat a substitute for style, pace for purpose.

 

 

The day was without features,

without rain, wind or sun,

neither hot nor cold.

Drained of colour by the unbroken cloud,

a blank canvas stared at me

like the first page of a second novel,

reflecting only my emptiness.

 

 

But there were the intricacies, ingenuities

of cliff side houses, cave homes,

engineers fashioning safety out of the hillside;

decorative shapes, rich colours;

gardens, yards, porches

Alive with determined humanity –

 

 

Then emptiness became an adolescent

affectation, a way to

interpret common or garden exhaustion

as if it had some meaning

of wider significance than my own

shortage of sleep and shyness of nature.

 

And so I drive home

Into the darkening sky,

with raindrops for company

giving a dazzling blur

to the oncoming traffic.

The Bridge

The water surges on, sure

in its purpose, indifferent

to the sweat stained pack horses

shivering on the wrong bank,

to the Johnny-come-lately

hominids now hovering,

mud struck from rutted highways,

in fear of taking the plunge.

It has swallowed the odd corpse,

thrown it to one side downstream

and swung its way to the salt.

 
But we must connect, alone

we shrivel and feed the vermin.

Our future they staked below

the gravels and silt gathered

from the wild lands. Water’s force

they turned against itself, rocks

they carved to cut through the flow;

arches span thin air to give

us our first space walks, lifted

along a ribbon of dreams

to exchange, compare and grow.

 

So the river may flow on

to a timescale out of reach

for us dreamers and builders.

Our will is pinioned in oak

and made visible in stone.

For us, now, different flows

cut across the stream’s sureness,

its certainty of purpose.

They lead us to something new,

ephemeral, in the air,

our strange need for pilgrimage.

 

I wrote this whilst reading Nicholas Crane’s history of the British Landscape – a fascinating account of amongst many other things, the development of the idea of ‘place’ from the times of hunter/gatherers. Bridges were of course an important step in this journey.

A Child Moves

That first night I went into town.
Through unknown streets.
It was the start of something
I can now see.
But then, I existed unseen
Between a known past of play,
Woodlands and sunshine,
And an unknown future of work,
Pavements and grey clouds.
On this walk, nothing happened
I thought. The air was still,
Faintly soot-scented, all here
Was as it had been.
But I had moved –
This was me, alone with my sensations

Penmenmawr

Penmenmawr

 

Like a silted puddle in a derelict

Scrapyard, I lie undisturbed by striving.

Behind me stands a grave of industry

Scarring the mountainside.

Before, the growl of restlessness

Sweeping by on its concrete stilts.

This town is a cemetery –

Old chapels slump open mouthed

Gaping monuments to lost modesty –

Shops bleed unwanted mail

In their bankruptcy –

No curtains twitch –

No laughter echoes –

The sea rolls against the unkempt shore

Beyond the piss-stained underpass.

God it seems has retreated

To the road to the hills,

To take rest behind walls

Of stone in lovingly tended

Gardens, where birds sing their songs

Where the fox ambles through my dreams.