The Deception of Peace

 

The place we seek is a kind of dying –

all stilled, breathless, returning to the cold

absolution. The path ahead is wide

heading nowhere into the empty desert.

Time must swallow the past and future

into the invisible ‘now’ instant,

where thought, hate and love are no more needed.

Life lives in struggles of uncertainty,

in arguments of survival, on rocks

that we fear and tides that surge through

flailing arms. Only when we understand

that we do not know; that we cannot know;

that the heart still beats through abandonment,

that to see a promised land is enough

without straining our eyes to see beyond;

that faith means letting go, still uncertain;

only then will we find courage to try.

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Back in Oxford

 

The past tapped me on the shoulder

and I turned. Nothing. Well, a scent.

Not even the sound of running feet

or nostalgia’s gentle humming.

Yet a sadness washed over me

that the past was lost and absence

was its legacy. The future

too in its way, either timed out

or boxed safely in denial.

The shoulder was tapped and I turned

hoping to find that ingenue

thrilled to walk in history’s steps.

Song of the Quantum Ape – Complete

I dream of song as I trudge, foot weary

through the late afternoon. The grey clouds hang

featureless, drowning the contours in haze.

The air is still and for just one moment

it seems I cease to be, thoughtless, tuneless –

it’s not a silence of expectation,

nerve ends alert and the blood quivering;

but a dullness, a blindness to detail

a ‘not happening’ that can enfold me

in absence; only the mass of being

weighs down, round shouldered, to scoff at my dreams.

No grand manifesto can sustain me

in these knowing days where all have their price,

where hope for consummation is displaced

by the set jaw of self preservation.

No more the ecstasy of creation

can command our faith without the drear stamp

of cash reward; heroes are ‘sought’, buried

beneath their gold and the protective masks

of celebrity. No more can we sing

the soft songs of private heroism,

the blazed anthems of generosity,

the gentle recitatives of friendship

to the quiet drum beat of communal

fellowship, the pulse of turning seasons.

I must listen, listen, listen again –

wait for the air to clear, the sun to shine.

Theology wraps my language, embracing

cadences of revelation and hope;

it provides a harmony against which

all melodies must stand, a mood palate

that gives my world its shape and coherence.

God long ago left the stage to reason,

to the driving forces of emotion,

genes, and the laws of physics; banned even

from the immensities, a figure

for childish escapism or tribal

fanatics. His flesh made Word though remains,

sermons hiding within every corner

of lived and imagined experience.

But the truth is not found in the sermon;

songs spring out of the rules of harmony,

not confined within the walls of rectitude.

Melody is a story, a fable –

ambiguity is its foundation,

empty spaces are its echo chamber

in which imagination can flourish.

The Biblical legacy, at its heart,

is silence, even in the face of death –

The Man, helpless before destructive pow’r;

no words shelter the tyrant from his truth –

the Man offers stories that don’t explain.

This is the song I heard my father sing,

though back then, I thought him a didact,

an explainer, with well organised prose,

learned, truthful – but I missed the music

until I could hear with an adult ear.

Then I heard the song in the truthfulness.

No more though can I call down Apollo

and the grandeur of his tragic vision

now lost in the absurdity of Gods

and their dust covered myths of suffering.

In their place have stood the confessionals

scattering linguistic pyrotechnics,

fevered metaphors and dazzling

displays of cultural diversity.

Proust, unread, stalks the empty corridors

once crowded with Biblical allusions.

Freud, reduced to being the poet’s plaything

sits, impotent in his self-righteousness.

From where do I find the songs of today?

On the toilsome journey through a strange land

to a joyful consummation, the end

casting the sunlight of affirmation

across my path? On a Winter’s journey

to the organ grinder’s shivering drone?

Or do the melodies find us, catching

us unawares, crouching behind the rocks,

striding blind across the highway, drooling

our life away in the late Summer sun,

or going through the motions of duty?

I must listen, listen, listen again.

Listen to the low hum of energy

the still small voice that sits where struggling thoughts

cannot reach, letting go the redemption

of unity to which we cling in hope

but with fading belief. The growing maps

of ignorance disconnect the patterns

to which I have turned seeking coherence.

I am conjured into beings by eyes

watching from unknown corners of the world,

my sound waves a blurred presence in shifting

spaces. All definition is deposed

and I can only go where some scent line

draws unplanned moments of recognition

and where the rhythm of my being calls

across the morning dew of the forests.

No more comes the saving cry of the Gods;

no more the complacent flow of progress

clad in its white coat and sure of its step;

no more the destination’s certainty,

nor the cloying comfort of belonging

to plump the cushions of revolution.

The still small voice is as a faint shadow

across the empty prairie, wandering

where watching eyes can create narrative,

its definition etched by arguments

but soon erased by other shades passing

and the unforgiving glare of the sun.

The Last Supper

It was another meal;

The last one, it turned out

With them all together.

They came in noisily,

Raising their voices

as birds in the city –

trying too hard, harsh sounds,

Sounds ready for a fight.

 

Whilst we had swept the floor

and prepared the table,

no one had spoken.

The street sounds frightened us

and we found our comfort

in the domestic chores,

in the dust marking time

in the shafts of sunlight.

 

We watched from the doorway

to hear his battle cry –

“This is my body broken

For you, my blood shed for you.”

A strange call to arms

turning them to silence,

to meet with their own souls

in all their confusion.

 

And I thought that this man

had a woman’s wisdom;

the wisdom of weakness,

the strength of hopeless love,

unflinching truth marking time

in the shafts of sunlight.

The Lost Village

I don’t know. Was that the wind

some rush of circumstance

through the barren market square?

The clink and banter of exchange

no more fill the streets; visitors

pass through politely, or pause

to recapture something lost.

The sound of children’s laughter

has long merged with the rustle

of the unclimbed oak,

chiming only in memories.

The church tower casts its shadow

over unshaven arthritic

graves, anonymous in the clipped

grass. Preservation is the God,

worshiped in manicured stonework

and plastic windows, as all round

the old village fossilizes.

Old! Old! For ever looking back

to lost days of golden sunshine,

to hope and home. Still the village

sings its siren song to longing

travelers unsure of their way.

A February Conference

Written rather longer ago than I care to recall, when I was still at work, this tried to capture a real experience at a staff conference.

Pock marked gravelly pathway
Framed the studded field
Green turned colourless grey,
By the February sleet.
My air-conditioned pod skimmed
Sleeping policemen,
The bite of a northerly
Wind, the sting of ice
The odours of the city –
An anaesthetic
To be endured awake, stomach
Clenched, senses tight off.
The brain raced anxiously
But is black and white,
Bloodless, lacking consequence
Save for the odd thought
That is drained, vitality
Lost when placed before
Watching faces looking up
From grey plastic chairs.
The rain and snow fall without
Whilst, dessicated
In our earnest endeavour
We wait, scratch and hope

And then, unexpectedly
Unpolished sincerity
Touches me with tenderness.
A tear springs to life, a sob
Jolts my inner suspension
To a smile, shared and shy,
Movement’s breath stained with a blush

Ash Wednesday

Ash is blowing away on history’s wings.

No more the daily product of fire, swept

Together on bended knee from soot lined

Hearths; Cinders is a figure of folk lore;

Loved ones are gathered to be thrown to air;

Stains and foul odours are no longer purged

By ash; no more does ash shine the silver.

But it still sticks to woeful Wednesday.

Its pall can still douse the pride of lost hearts.

With the embers of vanity painted

On brows, bowed before the unchanging force

Of time, we still hope for transformation