When David’s son scanned
the spiritual wreckage that was His house
and delared, “Destroy this
and I’ll raise it in three days,”
what He said not as
metaphor – which my students all know
is a kind of lying, a hedging of bets –
but as Truth, both in symbol and fact.
Daily they destroyed this house, and He,
the true house, would raise it,
would turn dull rubble to praise Him.
And when palm branches waved
in Passover praise, and these
Sanballats of another age raved,
and He silenced them, likened them
to duller than stone, for stones
could be turned to a chorus of praise –
I wonder if He turned in mind
to Nehemiah, with
his sword and his trowel, who
knew certainly how
our best laid plans make the best laid rubble
until all our rubble
is animate, raised
and taught again
Today the church remembers St Francis of Assisi, so here is a sneak peek at a new poem I wrote based on his life and ethos for The Swelling Year.
Instruments (For Francis of Assisi)
All our instruments tend to dischord.
We turn away from harmony
in search of our own tunes.
Brother Jesus, in leper’s dress, welcomes us.
We leave Him with His bell and seek
better jewels and robes.
The channels of our hearts are noise.
Only little buds whisper the wonder
that God came as child.
Christ who died for life’s sake: teach
my miser-heart to be a pauper for love,
breathing into death.
No need to touch the scars;
Caravaggio got that detail wrong.
The sheer force of His presence made Thomas crumple,
doubt ceasing where belief gained life,
the parched taste, hesitant like salt, exultant like wine,
as loosened lips croaked,
My Lord and my God.
Yet I am comforted to see
both the outstretched hand and
the companions’ fingers lifting his.
I cannot tell if, like Thomas,
I could simply stop doubting and believe at such a sight,
but, held up by the weathered,
briny hands of those who’ve seen with me,
I, like him, can lift a wrinkled brow in faith.
where, on the shore, He had
already assembled, as a table,
prepared for expected guests,
a charcoal fire, some fish laid out,
and, being himself the bread,
a loaf laid for good measure.
No need, of course, for the fish they brought.
No need, either, for that excess in their boats.
To feed seven mouths plus His,
that net-bursting horn of plenty was,
as old Judas, wilting, would have had them know,
not quite au fait.
Yet fitting – that He who made Leviathan solely to frolic
should choose to play with the resources of Galilee
to make much of these staples,
to invite, to delight,
and in the olive branch of this table set
in the presence of friends and enemies
to ask, as the mercy-cup overflowed in the background,
Simon, do you love me?
Nothing should compare to this:
our singularity that, with earthquake force,
shakes stones, baffles Rome, turns
the mourners from the tomb with lightning conviction.
And day on day this truth remains,
though I have dishes to wash
and the ever-turning of the present
makes me more a sullen Peter returning to his net
than a Mary, fleeing the dead, for dear life –
yes, for Life
had said her name and was here.
So many ways to wash feet:
the posture, not the precise nature of the action, matters – poised
at ground level, familiar with the dust
and grime of the day’s streets,
outer garments shed to throw off all show,
the creak in the knees accompanying the splash
and the mess of the self washing off in the bowl.
So many ways, yet I
am more comfortable to be Peter:
between pride and gung-ho humility,
reserved and haughty in equal measure,
more at home with excuses
than the flagrant shame of love.
If I would be a disciple, I need only start
with the crick in these old, ossified joints
as I teach them to get love’s job done.
Pilgrims, we return again to Jordan
where the old familiar waters flow;
As always we face the choice to enter,
awash in what we do not know.
Familiar the doubt, uncertain the prospect:
the promise declares like a quaking in sky,
yet how it transpires, our toes must encounter
and nothing ensures that our feet will stay dry,
only a dove and the voice of a father
and his story the same – ever ever.