Saturday, 24 February 2018

When He Was Still Far Off

Three days a week, his vigil
A hard cold duty under the domes.
The dull hours that make a tyranny
Watching, noting, checking.
The essence of tyranny is the list
and he is the pencil-tip, the typehammer.
What we call freedom is defiance of the list
The flight from category; man’s counterfeit categories.

Here they come, the wreckers,
dissidents, enemies of the state.
Old ladies shuffling and unsure
of every step but certain
of the One thing.
Students testing their nerve
The tall one doesn’t believe it,
he is taking the girl to bed.
But he has found a way to live against the Lie.
The family men – straight backed, hard faced.
At peace because they have not made peace.


Nearly Christmas. A low light
consoling the bare trees
Hard snow on the pavement
He ventures in to the archaic gloom.
A long shaft from the winter sun
caresses the soot-blessed screen,
A riot of grubby gold.
The Man and His Mother look down
Their eyes have seen and loved his kind before.
The busy priest behind; on earth
as it is in heaven.

The choir begins. Listen.
Someone pushing at a hidden door
in an ancient house, an empty room.
Dust on a toybox.
At home under a high roof
the common-sense mystic,
the wise fool,
the immortal martyr.

The child, too, is there
but he will go. Must go
before the rooms become too small.
On to other houses, other rooms
Larger, grander, brighter
Full of all that glistens
And round a fire
one raucous distant night
“I never knew the place”
three times.

A half-lie, for at a clear noon
in the green calm of summer’s dominion
you might find him on the hill
scanning the heat-soaked treetops
for a glimpse of a high roof
Seeking to know the purpose
of his seeking, and its end.
In that stillness the old noises
can almost overcome the new.

Then one day at the year’s grey end
when the trees are casting off
amid deceiving brightness
and melancholy coolness covers all

an old child may come again
on an old path,
catching the scent of woodsmoke
seeing a weathered door
still half ajar
still voices within
still waiting

What has been has been
Repentance is not undoing
and there are wounds that must await
some deeper healing far from here.
But to find the house again
To know the mystic
Sit at the fool’s feet
Learn life from the martyr

That is enough.

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