“‘Thou Shalt Not’ soon fades but
‘Once Upon A Time’ goes on forever.”
~ Philip Pullman.
Morning, May in England, Ascot Priory wood.
In a clearing by the pathway, a branch
invites a bow. I lay my forehead
on its bark, its skin
on mine is cool with rain.
These trees, once, belonged to nuns
who too found time, between
bell and candle, to walk and wonder,
to look overhead when summoned
by the wind’s reason and the leaves’ reply.
Now that whisper is for me
and some friends, here
for a retreat.
My room in this place once
was someone’s home. I see
her rise again, step into her stiff
black habit, hide her hair.
At the corner sink, a splash, one
brisk eye to the mirror. Soft shoes
shuffling out, along corridor tiles to Mass.
Head bowed to altar, her day an offering
to the glory of her god, his greater good.
Safe, safe within her solid priory walls,
how could she ever have imagined
a few decades on
her room for hire? (And to the likes of me)?
And all her sisters, and all their way of life,
In the graveyard underneath the trees
they lie coffined, row on row.
Each has a wooden cross to tell:
her age at death;
how many years she lived ‘in religion’.
Above them a giant Jesus still presides,
all iconography intact: spike
nailing feet, one above the other, to the wood;
cloth closed round the primal place, protected
even in last agony. His open chest and arms
and palms; his crown of thorns;
and, of course, his beard. This
god’s a man, make no mistake.
Oh, what a tale to tell.
I grew up in grounds like these
with nuns who tried to teach his way
with sticks and prayers. ‘Thou
Shalt Nots’ ruled their days
and ours and almost
always failed us. But still. Still
the story stands, on more than rod,
or rule, or cross. Passing
on the all that whispers always:
wind to leaf, sap to skin,
ever on and back again,
so that tonight, I’ll lie down
in my nun’s room, imagining
her way, knowing how
it came to end
is how mine must begin.
* * *
Sunday is lazy day for me, so here on the blog each Sunday I reprise one of my inspirational poems about some aspect of creative working and living.
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