Thursday, December 22, 2005


"All time is not your tear-off jotter, you cannot afford to scribble
So many so false answers"
Louis MacNiece, Eclogue by a five-barred gate

The idea that some are just born good
Believing what's not understood
Certainty of what Jesus meant
Hating those who are different
Judging before finding out
Denying any room for doubt

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Mary's lament

[a revised version of this poem appears in the collection Removals]


Pregnancy brought me joy and pain
Pain and joy, joy and pain
Joy first, and then pain

As soon as I felt it grow within me
My body succumbed
To the swashes of hormones
The tides of chemicals
The traffic in tissue
I grew and changed
As he grew and changed

I became large and ungainly,
Comically rounded;
I smiled and patted my belly
In joy

My good humour even survived
That hurried journey along crowded roads
In the muddy, frosted fag-end of the year
To Joseph's native village

No room
Still, can't be helped, we bedded down
In straw, flanked by the steaming forms
Of cows

Then the baby came, and with it, pain
My muscles straining
I lay there, panting, sweating;
heart pounding, I cried out
Wailed in the sunset
Pain, such pain

Then there were two voices wailing
Then only one
Then none


Thirty years on, and thirty miles north
I reach the foot of the little hill
Of ill-omened name
The city walls behind me; the gate locked
against encroaching dusk
The three trees stood on the summit
Long shadows sweeping the grass
And something ending

We had done so much, taken such care;
Food, water, clothes, love
Joseph taught him a trade
We had thought to relax
See out our days, warm
In the knowledge that he carried on

But then Joseph died, left us alone;
And then he left,
Said he was called to other things
Had work to do
I waved him off
Kept my fear to myself

The rumours came
From time to time
Travellers, soldiers, relatives
Buzzing with news
He'd been here and there
Doing wonders
And helping, always helping

But then the good news stopped:
Instead, capture, trial, and sentence
I hurried to Jerusalem

I can do nothing but watch
But must do what I can
As he labours through the hours
His face drawn, plastered with sweat and blood
His voice cracked
He asked why his Father forsook him
I wanted to tell him
His mother had not


Now all is dark
I'm in some room
(I can't recall where)
With some people, friends I think,
Downcast, snivelling and sobbing
He had such strength!
And we do not

It is unbearable
What can I do but bear it?
I cannot go on
What can I do but go on?

Joy and pain, he brought me,
Pain and joy, joy and pain
Joy first, then pain
Such pain