In a country town, the doors and poor boxes
of churches left unlocked, I would steal away
in cricketing heat. The Baker sisters –
veiled spinsters in black, were gardening
like keepers of bees and secrets.
Inside the church the sun was a stain of light.
In the sacristy, pewter cups, unwashed linen
and caged ash in thuribles were enough
to make you believe that spiritus mundi
was under house arrest. In the nave
I’d experiment with kneeling. In the chancel
I’d invent biblical names and watch
over proceedings, my tongue an organ stop
my hands casting wide nets of prayer.
Sometimes a door would open and I’d see
a long shadow hesitate before
heavy timber closed like the audible
stages of relief. I’d keep the confessional
for last, as trespass has a ranking scale.
I confessed to crimes imagined and real.
It did me no good, but I loved the vision
I had conjured on the other side –
a priest in cowl and scapular, leaning in
to say Tell me, and tell me straight, have you
and will you again? his mouth betrayed
by a quiver.
1 February 2017