In the bell tower, the bells chime as a crowd;
A concatenation of half tones blast
Their way from wall to wall, echoing loud
Within the trapped skulls of spirits long past.
Chaos and clamour, each bell eccentric
In voice, a conversation of deaf souls
Now pausing randomly, now in a quick
Rush, crashing to earth like delivered coals.
Yet this unearthly din sheds its clatter
As it waves across the wind to distant
Ears, to dreamers taken to their latter
Days, on the same current’s silent movement.
For them, the bells wrap their song around life
Long past and possibilities to come;
They float beyond the rasp of daily strife
And speak to faith and hope with strange wisdom.
The sun may creep around the horizon;
Today at least it can bask in neglect,
As we tread our modern Christmas journey.
Our eyes are shuttered by calculations,
Our ears plugged by plans and only the scents
Of the goose and all its trimmings invade
Our senses. We bow beneath the burden
Of finding gifts that will not shame our hearts
For those who hold our orbit in the world.
Still, the shafts of light search the long shadows
Of Winter and the white fields are silent,
The bare trees glow and the starlings gather;
The frost cracks the seed and breaks it open
To face the possibility of death.
And so the Word is made flesh despite us.
The clouds roll in from the west
banking up to cover the setting sun
no stars shine in the Winter darkness
as the land waits motionless, listening.
The robin crouches within the ivy,
and squirrels shiver in the bare branches.
Listen………. Stand still……. Look around the shadows.
No light shines before us. Only the beat
of our blood, the restless echoes of fear
can be heard vibrating in the stillness.
The shepherds can pass the night in idle
denunciations: kings wallow in gold
clutching power in their soul’s desolation.
The babies are slaughtered, and the merchants
bargain and cheat in the temple precinct.
But angels sing in forgotten places.
Life’s miracle is cradled where no one
expects, in some bombed out ruin, concrete
carpetted by dung, riddled with vermin,
invisible to our urgent striving.
There the dream of salvation is nurtured
by fools who stand arm to arm in the rain,
by fools who see in the patterns of loss
the faint glimmer of change and renewal,
by fools who are content to bow their heads
before the mystery of suffering.
And so the robin takes the worm and lives,
the squirrels scatter to find their larders,
and the world breathes in the freshening winds.
In the moment the clock strikes
And the fire leaps to the skies
I am without time or space,
Watching the instant repeat
Itself in the turning globe;
Now, then, then again – the same
Illusion of an event.
Stepping outside the moment
To where my dispersed tribe too
Dissolve into traveling thoughts,
My presence scatters to where
I am configured through the sense
Others make of me, lightly
Sketched by some but etched in words
By others unwittingly.
The precise exactitude
Of the midnight stroke
Falls into its opposite,
A formless dissipated
Sea of memory and love.
I turned the corner where the ice gathered
To catch the unwary – a pool of darkness
Lethal in its smoothness. The sky was cleared
So the stars could imprint their glints of light
On the pavement. The cold stillness shivered.
A scimitar cut into the blankness
Borrowing the sunlight to point
To the retreating west. Venus teased me
With its steady, its lifeless mocking gaze.
There’s comfort in the thought of a journey,
To some moment of blest revelation.
We like to think we bear gifts of value
That can bear witness to Nature’s balance
Between creation and cruelty;
That can celebrate rich beauty without
Mocking the miserable poverty
Of the innocents; that can bandage up
The open wounds of injustice and fear..
But the unflinching stare of the planets
Shrinks our steps to absurdity and shines
An indifferent light on the parcels
We wrapped with such care. But I blunder on,
Oblivious to the thread of consequence
Unravelling behind me – what a joke
Is wisdom and the foolishness of power!
We are flecks in the tide of chaos
Thrown away by the relativity
Of great things and the quantum mystery
Of the small. Our marks have oblivion
In their essence, our songs are just soft waves
In thinning air, and our touch is a spark
In a vacuum. But still I blunder on,
I turned the corner, hoping that our kiss
Can defy the harsh violence of Time
That burns all things to cold sterility,
To the absolute, too frigid for ice.
Making Offerings to Delusion
I find myself, at twilight, in the woods.
Below, the lined faces of the day’s end
Peer through their bleached floodlit tunnels, jaws set,
Borne along by the reassuring growl
Of their protective shells. Above, the crows
Gather to share stories, bicker, rattle.
In the woodland floor, where the night has skulked,
The creepy rustles of unnamed terror
Lurk, pushing me on. My destination
Waits in the gloaming, still, beneath the breeze
That curls softly across the canopy.
Between roar and scuffle, I bear my gift
Wrapped in the softness of my lone whispers.
At the pool’s edge, I bow my head, dreaming,
And see, looking back at me in the darkness
A watcher, eyes on the heavens, listening.
And as the world passes by, I recite
My musings to my own created world.
Time to wake up, to the cold light of day,
To bite the ankles of power, to taste
The sour, acid truths of mortality,
To crunch the discordant chords of living.
If you saw the Truth standing before you
Its steady gaze snagging your cheeks
As you pass, what would you do?
Maybe you’d not notice –
You’d ascribe your red
Cheeks to the Winter frosts?
Maybe you’d smile politely
As if to say, “I know you, Truth,
And we could be friends, another day.”
Maybe you’d scowl at the intrusion,
Smothering unanswered questions
Shivering in the spotlight.
Or else you’d shed hot tears,
As if the gaze could be turned
Aside by proof of a soft heart.
Or you might look back in denial,
Convinced that the ground you stand on
Is proof against all attack.
Or could you turn aside,
Take Truth by the hand
And be led in a new direction?
But Truth would see us clothed in our mem’ries,
Would see our heads turn to look back
At the past for which we grieve.
Truth would see in our eyes
That we do not know,
We do not know,
Do not know,
The star has barely faded in the East,
And yet, here we are, all joys forgotten,
Shrovetide. Time for penance. Ahead the rocks
Across which our bare feet must shed their blood;
The desert heath through which we must shiver;
The sun crouches, snivelling, to blind us
With shafts of light – cold illumination.
We don’t have to think long – we know the nail
Will be hammered, the spear thrown, the blood flow.
We know hope must forsake us in dark hours
And we must resign ourselves to the earth.
So we embrace denial and we feast –
One last binge defying cruel certainties,
Appetite slipping under the radar
Of our instinct for self laceration.
What the hell is going on? We’re stuck into the penitent fogs of Lent, death silently lurking behind every corner. We’re trudging through the cold grey days, wind in our face, feet caked in mud. And just at this moment, God chooses to pop down for a happy announcement.
Could God not have waited? Another month wouldn’t have mattered. A bit of morning sickness could have been anything in those days. It’s not really necessary to blurt out the news of new birth on the day of conception – no doubt God is suitably excited ….
but doesn’t it seem like bragging?
Today smells of blood, nothing between me
And the shudder of indifferent facts;
This not from savagery of warfare,
The murderous lurch in a soul’s dark hour,
Nor the daily carnage of happenstance.
Rather it is raw exposure to love
That is encountered on this Passiontide;
It is the time to stand unprotected.
Passion – the rawness has been leached away,
Its roots in suffering, in the silence
Before power, are hidden far below
The still pool in which we admire ourselves.
But just for this day I can smell the blood
And witness the painful truth about love.
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.
Could you not watch with me one hour?
No, I slipped into sleep,
Glad to shed any trace
Of your painful struggles
And of my list of waiting tasks.
Were you not one of those with him?
No, I came my own way
Glad to hide in my skin
From the threat of a touch
And from the danger of joining.
Will you have this man as your son?
No, my love has dried out
Glad to lose any chance
Of finding new demands
And recalling old hopes.
Do you love me?
Do you love me?
Do you love me?
What is Truth
The silence slapped him on the face;
The unspeakable wormed its way
Into the passage of his gut
And stripped the mantle of power.
He shuddered, staring at himself
The hollowed oak ringed for felling,
The alien crayfish netted,
Ears ringing in the wordless void.
The clatter of rule was quiesced,
The shadow of death threw his cloak
Across time’s heart beat, its echo
Vacuum packed still pulsed noiselessly
As he scrambled for a safe grip,
A sure stance in his nakedness.
Still no death was interrupted
And he soon regained his disguise,
Dived into history’s bland flow
With its intrigues and blood letting.
Immortality was his too
In a way. We are who he was –
We are captured for an instant
By the glamour of poetry
Before failing again in prose.
It is Barabbus who steals the limelight,
Not that we know what miserable deeds
Had grown in the cold desperate midnight
Of childhood darkness, nor what were the seeds
Of his self-absorbed cruelty.
Poverty, grief and casual neglect
No doubt played their part, nurtured in a land
Of crowded impotence. You could detect
In his eyes, no softness, crushed by the hand
Of cold desire and hopelessness.
Beside him, silent, stands the man of love
Unrecognisable to the massed crowd,
Moved by a spirit that may rise above
Mere events, but is interred below loud
Voices eager for victory.
The silence is hard to bear, all too clear
We see the need to be noticed, that draws
From us, for Barabbus, our fervent cheer.
But he, however, he dreads that the jaws
Of drab obscurity await.
Yet we remember him, not as victims-
‘Je suis Barabbus’, I fear, yearning for
Recognition, disowning the scattered limbs,
The ruined lives, the grind of pain, the store
Of misery that we contain.
Still, we do mostly choose to be silent,
To cool the mind in the fresh winds of Spring,
To find love in the tender growth of Lent,
To embrace wide armed all that life can bring
And wrap our private pains in hope.
Come Easter Sunday morning,
Sun lifting daffodils
To their carefree display,
All the promise of Spring
In the wash of yellow
Swaying in the cold winds,
We kept our appointment
With some forced miracle.
It never convinced me –
The pain of Good Friday
Too easily dismissed,
Complacent smiles clutching
A story book ending.
Standing outside the church
We would shiver against
The last whip of Winter
Whilst adults conducted
Their strange ceremonies.
Yet some celebration
Seeped into my being,
Some idea of ‘newness’,
An opening up
Of the shackles of darkness.
What kind of fairy tale is this?
A happy ending, all pain soothed,
the cries of the mob a memory?
I think not. After all, the wounds
were not healed, were worn like a name badge.
They cut into the quivering souls
that slashed their righteous way
across time’s miseries.
They suppurate in the babbling
cults of the vengeful wealthy.
They daub their watery trail
in shamed innocence thrown
to the wolves of guilt.
Why do we not see?
It was doubt that sprang to life
that Easter morning, human loving
Doubt, the fresh spring of discovery
Well, is that it then?
All the drama packed in a few months,
Birth and death compressed
To fill the dreary hours.
Now the sun warms and the bud swells
No one wants to know
What happens in the ‘happily ever after’.
Passion and romance
Are enough reality for us.
Evil conquered can be forgotten.
But we must go on
And tread the path we choose.
Our packs are our own.
There is no one for us
To follow beyond our memories;
No destination beyond our dreams,
Just the next step, the wind’s whistle,
And the scent of the sea.
Yet the story cannot be untold.
It must flood through us with each touch
Of kindness, each gesture of compassion.
This is the time of year
When life springs from the cave
Pushing back the stone,
And vanishes to heaven
Leaving blue stains in the woodlands
Drops of sunshine on the meadows
New lambs bouncing in the backdraft.
Then we are alone, just
Ghosts of memory at our shoulders
Braced to withstand
The storms from events without,
The dread of emptiness within,
Comforted by the softness of truth
Buried in our DNA.