Was watching an Inspector Montelbano programme – for linguistic
purposes, you understand.
It certainly wasn’t for subtlety, but the scenery is good!
Anyway, it was about migrants and I suddenly remembered my poem on
Lampedusa and thought I might as well publish it, rather than leaving it
A local artisan made a cross from the bits of driftwood from the wrecks
of migrant boats and set it in a chapel.
So, here is my poem.
nailed from shipwrecked lives, splinters:
with Wormwood, like the toxic
star which fell to Earth,
corrupting all our waters.
Mugwort – protector
of travellers, from spirits,
malign and bitter –
why did you not help them live?
Francesco, you honoured them:
the Somali refugees.
You worked with the wood,
which tanged of salt suffering;
carved their scuppered crafts and
crafted signs of hope;
placed one above an altar;
trembled at its touch,
as if handling a relic
(as though St Paul had
blessed all those who washed to shore,
clinging to freed planks
not dissimilar to these.)
Castaways swam to
Coniglio’s lights, as if
striving to strand in Heaven,
or later, wrapped in gold foil,
like saints receiving new robes
for abandoned rags,
once through the deadly portal.
Amazighs, Greeks, all landed here,
where Saracens sacked;
Barbary pirates plundered,
raking out slave loads.
The Marabouts were washed up
alms to fund their pilgrimage.
The Mare Nostrum
buoyed up Mary Magdalen;
John sailed to Patmos;
Thomas to the coast
of Coromandel, it’s said.
berated the Son of God
in a storm on Galilee.
He was still on board,
though He seemed to be asleep.
But, when He said, Come!
one found he walked on water.
the sacred table, chalice,
fashioned from driftwood,
have been assembled from beached
flotsam and jetsam –
sacrosanct, reserved fragments,
though mere detritus,
from the high tide’s waterline.
will grow, till the world is healed
by a Carpenter
who shows compassion for crowds;
loves the discarded
and creates His own kingdom.
is to those no one welcomes.
(Anne Boleyn’s Communion chalice, donated by Elizabeth I’s physician,
is displayed in a niche in the above.)
Had her head been brought in on a platter,
she might have seen a vaulted porch, with veins
like gills, or fine tracery of brocade;
or diagrams of a nervous system;
or skeletal frames of hooped farthingales.
That narrow windpipe staircase on the right,
constricted as her white, extended throat,
might have reminded her of a Tower
and the futility of counting steps.
This holy place was built on virgin wool.
It was a fold for sheep, who stood before
shearers and then were led to swift slaughter.
Here is a wine glass pulpit, slim as waists,
pre-gravid: a stem for those who could grasp.
A Lamb prayed such a cup would pass from Him,
but had to drink it to the bitter dregs
and she had her Gethsemane as well.
Benjamin, caught with a stolen vessel,
was offered clemency – but she had none.
Her gilt chalice, though charged with sacred blood,
conferred no immunity, nor did it
prevent Dissolution of the Abbey.
Criticism of a current favourite
did John the Baptist no favours either.
But the dancer in Herod’s court was sly –
perhaps more so than this sloe-eyed woman,
who ultimately was beheaded too.
May, the traditional time for losing
one’s heart to one’s love, was a nuptial month,
but also a month of execution.
Cherry tree confetti in the graveyard,
proleptic of this afternoon’s wedding,
has already been bruised and downtrodden.
You may sit on a Woolsack, or a throne,
and gain the whole world, or lose your own head.
(The engraved acanthus decoration
evokes immortality; lineage.
Though its thorny leaves speak of sin and pain,
it was an apt gift to a physician,
from the grateful daughter of Anne Boleyn.)