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.

Palm Sunday

Beware – palms waving in jubilation

Do not recognise Truth͛s pale countenance

As it trudges its disappointing way.

But who would listen during the cheering

To a Jeremiah who feels the nails

Of mortality cutting through his hands?

“Can we not just for a couple of hours,

͚Rejoice͛, raise our eyes from the trail of dung,

And bellow our anthems of delusion?

You who sit in comfort may discover

Joy in finely turned lines of tragedy,

In the bleak beauty of heroic death,

Or the sunlit fairy tale of rolled tombstones.

We must turn back to disease, to the diet

Of subsistence, to the cruel hand of power

And the certainty of an unmarked grave.

Why should we not wave our palms at an ass?

Why not thumb our noses at the powerful

As they sip wine and cant hypocracies?͟”

So Truth must smile at denial’s courage

And forgive the raging calls of the mob.



In the bay windowed sunlight

The cries of women are beamed

Into our solitude; night

To our day, impotence streamed

In the service of a hope

For truth that can breathe away

Fumes of war, beyond the scope

Of houses where kindness can play.



We are struck by something shared,

A feeling for place, a well,

A village, a language paired

With the white rubble of hell;

Bloodied wounds and the death rites,

The search for food, the long wait

Frozen in terror, the nights’

Wailing, the cold hand of fate.



Here, we live double glazed lives

Warm, sheltered, sitting alone,

Bricked up as summer arrives,

Connected by mobile phone

To something we think private.

No cause to meet our neighbour

These husks of freedom grate

Against domestic labour.




Drive me sure to the deep fields

Of oblivion, to where the mushrooms

Creep from the darkness to tempt

The wind-swept peewit cry of morning;

To where the bee blazes its task

Through the dust drenched hedgerows.

Wield the whip across hot flanks,

Press the flesh, keep on.



Sail me straight through the sea spray

To the featureless oceans, grey in their gore,

To where I spit in the spray

With the storm bound petrels,

To where we join the map of the stars

Beyond the merged horizon.

Raise the sails before the gale,

Pull the ropes, keep on.



Step me cold through the dead men,

The limbless and the power crazed

To where the percussive rhythms

Drown out the melodic lines,

To where the pigments made from the dust

Of bone and blood paint for the blind.

Hard hats over bloodshot eyes,

Rifles cocked, keep on.



Fly me faint in the damp air

Of farewell, to where nagging fears

Rest on their spades to watch the moon;

To where the lone cries in the night

Catch the sweet cadences of distance

And float away on the swell of sobs.

Stretch the wings into the clouds,

Glide away, keep on.

Where is the silver thread that catches the sun?

Where is the silver thread that catches the sun?

Lost for now in the flat light that covers

Forgotten days? Light and shade clutch each other

In the cold clammy embrace of Winter;

Only their trembling in the mist filled winds

Hints at larger movements of events

Outside our reach. Before the dank mould

Of oblivion, do we choose madness

To give colour, to imagine purpose?

Do we guard our privacy to let hatred

Flow freely down anonimity’s slopes?

Do we turn on easy targets to hide

Our impotence before complexity?

Oh for the first sliver of new mornings.

The rose shaft that lifts the grey filter,

That lifts the covers to display the sharp

Edges; the infinite varieties

Of ochre, green, grey; the dance of Nature

Through the veins of the year’s corpsed memories.

But we must die, must give ourselves over

To the stale midden of our old strivings,

To evaporate in the blank mindless mists.

February poem for Trump and May et al

Thinking about my collection of poems reflecting the Christian calendar, I came across the set reading for last Sunday. It was too powerful a message to pass over and seems to me to have the rhythm of a poem, so overcoming my dislike for ‘Bible bashing’, and deciding I could not improve on it (ha), I am posting it!

Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12]

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

[If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.]