Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart
He who knew the Veritas and Vita
was trampled on a line on Gran Via,
his pocketful of peanuts and currants
scattered like ebony rosary beads
which mingled with his bloodstains on the rails.
Five days on, Catalonia’s homage
was marked in damask and curved black ribbons
by a black hearse drawn by plumed black horses
through the capital to those capitals.
The Cornet had resounded ‘Hosanna’.
The son of a coppersmith exalted
the son of a carpenter, so that stones
cried out His deity and handiwork.
From the serpentines of bright workshop stills
came the spirals of his imagination.
His blue eyes screened the Barcelona sun
while bent in projects or in silent prayer.
Industrialists did not always like his puns.
From the Collserola hills he looked down
at his cypress towers to eternity.
His Rosita drank Aigua del Carme,
toasting the Carmelite nuns who brewed it;
seeking the Mother of God and her own.
Then he removed his faded black felt hat
and hung it up in the now empty hall.
His bed became a mason’s Bauhütte
while he carved the needles of Montserrat
into Sagrada Familia’s spires.
And when they asked when it would all be done,
he said, “My client is in no hurry”.
The Architect of the Universe smiled.
From Crimthan, sly fox, to Columba,
dove of the church, was a coracle ride
and a conviction that the battle was His.
So the prince swapped his pillow for a stone,
his blackthorn cudgel for an olive branch,
dying daily till oratory steps
were illuminated with a white light.
And he who refused all wool and linen
was comforted by robes of righteousness
for his ultimate peregrination
in the hold of one who calmed the waters
and who was true High King of all Ireland.
* Celtic Christians called a spiritual journey which involved self-sacrifice “white martyrdom”.
Thinking about Winchester Cathedral Close, as I walked through it at the weekend and remembered the wonderful view I once had from the roof of the cathedral, over Pilgrims School to Winchester College. I visited a friend shortly afterwards and she had just had chemotherapy and was very ill with bone cancer. It was difficult to know if she would survive her treatment, but I made a kind of pact that we would do the roof tour together if she survived.
We didn’t sadly, but she bravely fought on for a further twenty years or so. I still think of her when I look up at the roof.
WINCHESTER CATHEDRAL ROOF TOUR
You have to haul yourself up by a rope:
the spiral staircase is so narrow and
the treads so shallow. I don’t think you’d cope
right now, but afterwards…
she nods, and drinks in my vivid outline
of the tour thirstily. When I’m quite through
this chemotherapy; my body’s mine
again, we must climb the tower and view
Wolvesey Palace, the Deanery, St. Cross..
Under the heavy wig her eyes burn bright.
I try not to think of her muscle loss,
or that she’s shrunk two inches of her height.
All I know is when birds return next spring,
I’ll stand on the cathedral roof alone,
or with her. Angels will be hovering,
lest we should dash our feet against a stone.
You cannot see their faces from the ground,
yet worshipful men carved exquisitely
where only God could note, their efforts crowned
in their own hearts.
We know implicitly
that all over in six months might mean that:
ambivalence a part of existence.
Magnificat; also requiescat:
twin themes in passionals of persistence.
Now she is confined in the dark stairwells
of pain where bluebottles accumulate,
but after her suffering has ceased, bells
will peal over pantiles, to celebrate
her courage, endurance, and will redound
to those whose vantage point’s on higher ground.