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Rape’s yellow perfume soaks the air,
cows sail seas of hay-time grass,
bees zap and zing, a rabbit rat-a-tats up hill,
a crisp bag blows like an escaping soul;
Death leaves his flowered footprint on the grass.

Through the heavy iron gate
(toffeed black with years of paint)
the hodgepodge church leans on the sky,
a thrown-together thing, part well dressed stone,
part ragged rock on swathes of scrabbled brick,

village church, built jumbled piece by piece,
hand to second hand by village folk
yet added to, restored over the years,
a slate roof and a lead clean as cold sky
too tidy for this mottled meeting house.

Inside, when the door bang dies
dim ghost-light leaks into the gloom,
dark wood fills you with surprise,
fingers fondle the ancient carvings
etched on almost every surface here.

The font lid hangs in delicate lacery
light beading through like holy water drops,
and as though a child on black paper folds
has cut out diamonds and slots
the gallery fans on thin fluted feet.

On the pews, a wild embossed tattoo
of wooden saints to press on sinner’s backs;
and down the aisle, scale by chiselled scale
a serpent with a head at either end
tempts fingers down his endless tail.

Loudly through timber teeth the pulpit barks
lengthy sermons of cut and scrape and tap
and no mere preacher with his brass bound book
could ever outstage this hollowed trunk of art,
his words would chip like chisels into oak.

The rich knelt here inside this fancy box
safe from the church-floor draught,
paupers’ coughs and frozen feet.
On panels they could not see from here
(but all the congregation knew were theirs):

the uncarved wooden cross of Calvary,
Thomas-touch of wounds in hands, side and feet,
the stone being rolled across the cave’s sad mouth,
ascension on a shining oaken cloud
into the wealth and opulence of heaven.

A marble man stands tall below the tower
defying the blackened wood in glistening white,
at his side a cherub toys with death
(my fingers dip the sockets of cold stone).
On a gilded scroll the benefactor’s tribute shouts

‘He was neither proud nor ostentatious.’
My laughter shatters the gloomy calm
and heaven-sent, my eyes fix on the ceiling
where ugly faces sneer from ribcage beams
and glowering gilt winged angels

loiter with intent.

(Based on Old Warden church.
The carvings were subsequently stolen.)

 

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