Poems

Palm Sunday

 

Unhappiness has hung like smoke
Around our house for weeks now;
It’s come unbidden, like some foul insect.
And so, to claw back tiny scraps
And memories of contentment 
He brings home smoked salmon
And two kinds of eggs: 
The kind to scramble, and the kind to hide. 

Children make a good excuse 
(“She’d love it!” we say to each other):
So in defiance of convention,
I stage a chocolate egg-hunt one week early.

Cheerful spots of coloured foil
Wink consolingly from cabbage leaves and carrot-tops.
We forget we’re cold;
She gives me ten minutes of joy,
Lovingly collecting eggs, 
Delight so fulsome it spills over, 
Illuminating frostbitten vegetables. 

It is the rituals I’ve begun to miss, 
No staggering discovery that we need them
(Prisoners in isolation mark the days 
On walls and floors and ceilings). 
Time matters. 
We will hold our festivals alone, 
Determined to remember,
And they will shine like jewels, 
Though all things are out of joint. 

“Palm Sunday” was the winner of the Cuddesdon Creative Writing Competition 2020

Watch and pray

Engulfed by solstice darkness,
I switched off the office light 
And played a Bach chorale 
Full volume in the dark 

Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele

Soon I was on my feet, arms in the air, 
As if my wide, unfilled embrace
Could be enough to draw O Sapientia
Through the ceiling as I wept

und vergiß all Not und Qual

Half-dancing for a verse, I understood
I could not pull him down. 
He was already there: 
We were already waltzing.

I began this poem late in 2020. Its roots lay in obsessive listening to the chorale at the heart of BWV 70, an Advent cantata, Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! I’d argue that the chorale itself is one of the most beautiful things ever written, probably because (a) it’s a Bach chorale (b) in a beguiling three-four time, like a waltz. The little German interludes in the poem below are taken from the original text from that chorale (which you can listen to from the 13:28 mark here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGG3ninFM80)

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