The setting for this poem is the Vigil, which some churches keep, on the evening of Maundy Thursday.   After the service commemorating the Last Supper, a watch in kept before the reserved sacrament, mindful, in particular, of events in the Garden of Gethsemane.   In this case, the location was a small chapel in the back streets of inner South London.

Could you not watch with me one hour?

We sit in stillness, hearing the unsleeping
city stir beyond the wall.
Keep watch – yet not as one might watch
a bedside in the cancer ward,
over a prisoner sweating blood.

Close breath of candle smoke hemmed
with soft shadows; spring flowers
to counter the austerities of Lent;
behind the veil, laundered and
virginal, a gleam of polished silver.

While some take spiritual exercise
it could be that, along the street, hope
dies a lonely death, fear watches
over sleeping children, listening for
the bruising footfall yet to come.

Troubler of conscience, seized at night
by armed police, battered in the cells,
dragged before interested judges, tortured
and choking on his blood before the day
is out – this story keeps on being told,

though we are happier not knowing,
having no more aptitude to share in terror
than did those who fell asleep that night,
relaxing in a shadowed garden, drowsy
from the congenial supper they had shared.

We keep this vigil year by year, endure
instruction and expend attention, trying
to capture stark emotions, which
we otherwise would pray hard to be spared –
and yet would feel uneasy if it were not done.

When I was setting up the site in January, I started it off with a few poems about New Year and midwinter.  Here is a February poem – not about the same weather as we’ve been having, but seasonal anyway.   It is an early piece which has been heavily re-worked of late.


February fill-dyke – ditch and furrow
brim across the sodden land,
blank puddles stand about the fields.
A summer brook that laps round
children’s ankles, surges at strength
stout men could scarcely wade.

We walk the causeway out to the old
bathing place.  The river, flowing
in full spate, doubling its channel,
runs muscular and lithe, faster
than horses, smack at the open weir.

All gates winched high, the flood
bursts into straight ports, that
churn the torrent pouring through,
plunging away, snatching at banks
and branches, swilling down debris.

Even in childhood, August days,
this was a place where tension hedged
our play, paddling in sight and sound
of danger, swimming near currents
that could sweep carelessness away.

The tin huts have been taken down,
the trees cut back and winter bare;
no more secluded places, we can see
everywhere, a landscape shrunk
with age.  Water has changed the height
of bridges, fences, trees; contours
of fields all out of shape.  The streams
roll on at gathering pace, maroon us
here as strangers in an alien place.

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