Welcome

These poems are the fruit of almost 30 years of occasional writing. They were written as private reflections, or for friends and family. I hadn't intended them for public consumption, but people have told me now and then that they thought I should share them, so I have. I shall add new poems if and when I write them, though a lot of my words tend to go into sermons these days!
If you find something you like and find helpful, you are welcome to use it and share it, but please make sure my name stays attached to it.
The poems are posted in no particular order, but the labels - click on links below - should help you find poems on various themes.
There are also separate pages on this blog containing links to music composed by my husband, Philip, and to Christmas stories which I have told here at Seal in place of sermons on Christmas Day.

Friday, 10 March 2017

The Seventh Day - or what God did on his day off

On the seventh day
God played with his creation.

In the morning
he ran down early to the sea’s edge,
and in the crusted rock pools teased
the waving fingers of sea anemones. 
He let the sand, like powdered silk,
run through his funneled fingers
and the shallow water play around his feet,
drawing a sandy wake around them.
Crashing on the rocks the waves leapt
to greet him with sprayed salt.

In the afternoon
he kicked up leaves,
musty in the dark woods,
and chased the spidery seed children of the
rosebay willowherb,
tumbling idly into their new generation
over dry earth.
He dammed the icy streams
to sail twig boats down rocky rivers
and climbed into the branches of rough oaks
looking for secret squirrels

But in the evening -
in the evening he wanted to talk.
So he sought out man and woman by their campfire,
finding worlds within its embers.
Late into the night,
they listened, with their arms around each other,
to the songs of night creatures,
and invented music.

And God thought the seventh day was good,
because he played with his creation –
and the whole earth joined the game.


Oct. 88.    
I wrote this after leading a Sunday School session on the Creation story. As I got to the seventh day and told the children that God rested, I could see how ridiculous that sounded to them. It made it seem as if God had retreated to his sofa and put his feet up. How many of them would have done that, having made all these fantastic things. It occurred to me that to them - and to me too - "resting" is done just as much in play as it is in putting my feet up.



One March Morning

One March morning
all the world was green.
Forests of seedlings sprouted
overnight
in our wood.
Trees, which had conspired together
in the darkness
put out sticky buds,
swelling insolently through the dead bark.

One March morning
all the birds
behaved as if there hadn't been a winter
- no cold silence -
picking up their songs
where they had left them
scattered in the autumn leaves.

One March morning
life went on
consuming death.


13th March 91

The last gift

God, squatting on his hunkers,
wipes the clay from his broad fingers,
contemplates his morning's work,
and hums a faintly indecisive, wondering tune.

"Arms, legs,
two eyes (still closed),
ten fingers, toes,
- it looks alright -
this creature made of earth,
this mud-pie thing."

God sits and thinks a while
"- what else? -"
then takes a sucking breath
and kisses it to life.

"I give you love," he breathes,
"enough and more to spare.
I give you struggle,
- not too much - to make you grow.
I give you all of me to play in
and sufficient nerve to jump into the dark,
and curiosity and little glimpses of the infinite
- divine temptations! -
and some questions without answers.
Then here's joy and peace and gentleness,
and power to create
to bind, to heal and to destroy.
I give you wisdom, and the courage to be foolish,
trust and patience, faith and hope. 
I give you birthing, changing, dying, 
and the sense to know your time."

And filled with God-breathed gifts,
the creature stirs, mud glowing into flesh,
and stretching, wakes.
And God looks on his work
and smiles
and cries a tear
and sucks another breath.

"And last I give..."
he sighs, and pauses - for the last gift is the hardest,
"last I give you freedom."
And God turns and walks away.

Feb 23rd 91

I have not reached Easter

No ,
I have not reached Easter
and this might be the year when
there is no resurrection,
when the long darkness of Friday
stretches
without a glimmer
into Sunday morning.
This year you might come to the tomb
and find only a stench.

You cannot deny it.

Death without despair
is merely playing with comforting words
-   a cheated game with a fixed end.


          See ,
I have not reached Easter.
Please do not dig in my bare earth.
Even if somewhere the new shoots grow
you will surely destroy them
with your indiscriminate plough
and your boots so heavy with hope
and your hands, all unknowing,
tearing the nurturing folds of mud
from the seeds
ripping them from the protective embrace of death.


          No ,
I have not reached Easter
and this might be the year when
there is no resurrection.
I would rather
- please let me –
lie in the ground and rot and wait for the angels.

  
Maundy Thursday 93


The Departure of the Queen of Sheba


Odd – perhaps not? – that Handel should hymn your arrival,
all hustle and flurry,
spreading of treasures and doors flung wide,
when all the time the true surprise
is not that you arrived, but that you left.

You left this man
for whom unnumbered women gave their eye teeth,
and much more besides.
You left this man
- astonishing in his glory,
like no other king on earth.

You left him.
Packed your bags,
rolled your silks,
furled your banners,
closed the palace doors behind you.

This is truly music-worthy.
You went home.
Only one who rules her own land
would have had the nerve.

1999



It was what it was - a poem for my funeral

I have gone to the God who holds me
as he has always held me,
whole and entire.
But you have come today
with scraps of my life in your pockets,
a piece here,
a piece there,
maybe just a tiny
corner,
faded and frayed,
to make of me
a crazy
patchwork quilt.

It is what it is,
as it was what it was.
Take it and use it.
And if it should keep someone warm
on a cold night,
or the memory of a memory of a pattern
shape you somehow,
it will do,
and I shall be glad.



March 9 2017

Sursum Corda - Communion in the secure unit

We made communion,
with your battered, plastic, insulated mug standing in
for the chalice I’d forgotten.
Coffee stained,
- maybe too hastily rinsed ?
you’d fetched it from your room,
and offered it,
leaving no space for negotiation.

Who could refuse?

But there, in the fishbowl room,
for a moment,
we shared ourselves
as we shared the not-quite-wine
(alcohol was not allowed)
passing hand to hand and life to life.

The Lord was there.
His Spirit was with us,
and our hearts were lifted up,
like the plastic mug,
to heaven.



March 9 2017
Sursum Corda - lift up your hearts. The Latin name for the opening responses of the prayer of consecration of the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

For my accidental godchild

When I first saw you
you lay
swaddled in wishes
within a world, dream-laden,
tightly packed with prayers.
Cast up like driftwood on your mother's lap
washed by her tears
her melting edge of grief fell slowly at your baptism.

Beached precariously on the world's shore
by arms and legs we held you
as if our hands could bind you to the earth,
and in your naming we forbade some random wave to sweep you back
and claim you never were.
And all we dared to ask was this:
that you should live
tomorrow and tomorrow.



Sept 88
For a child for whom I stood in as godmother at short notice. The baptism took place in the Special Care Baby Unit the day after her birth, just before she underwent a serious operation. I am glad to say she survived and is now grown up. 

Frontier

We are travelling towards the border
to a place of no returning
and the Green Man, with his walkers,
stands waiting on the frontier

dead and reborn
wild and wistful
with a welcome in his eyes
and the memory of Easter in his
holed hands
etched with nails

and our dragging feet, in spellbound shoes,
inexorably draw us.

There is death and birth.
The world shall change.
The Green Man, with his walkers,
stands waiting on the frontier.


Nov 90

Dancing in the desert

Stand still
stand very still, and be naked.
For the Lord of life is dancing in the desert of your soul.

Through the spaces you have left him
he comes
whirling slowly on his feet of fire.

For his own private pleasure
and your secret delight
you shall see him dancing in the desert of your soul.


Lent 89

Strange Landscapes - a poem for confusing times

When I was a child, newly born
life was, and no words shaped it.
But I grew, and grasped at syllables
till nothing passed in silence.
Struggling to speak the essence of the world
I laboured with a host of definitions.

Yet, despite my mountainous words,
I have found myself,
in these new times,
in strange and speechless landscapes,
lost, alone amid the indescribable.

I am just a child.
All the messages from mind to mouth
cannot reveal this slippery place.



May 28th 97
Written just after the end of my first marriage.

Memento Mori

Standing so often at the edge of life -
the rasping sound of final breaths
as fluttering fingers lose their hold -;
Casting so often the words
at which the spellbound crematorium curtains
slide silently
severing again, again, again,
the living from the dead;
I need no memento mori,
and, without success,
on days off,
hunt the lost delusion of immortality.

June 11th 96.


One of the occupational hazards of priesthood is an over-familiarity with the business of death. At the local crematorium when I wrote this poem, an unseen operator closed the curtains while the priest faced the coffin, which made it look as if we were doing this just by the power of our words!
Memento Mori are things which remind you that you will one day die.

Wordless in the spring sunshine

I haven't written anything for months
(save words strewn from the pulpit by the bucketload,
which I assumed, foolishly,
came from somewhere other than my own storerooms).
Now I am afraid
that there is nothing left.
I have spent the seed corn.
Other hands have seized it;
every last grain swept up from the tiled floor,
and carried off.
My own bare earth,
harrowed, broken down by frost, and waiting,
silently rebukes me.

Here I stand,
wordless in the spring sunshine,
hoping that somewhere in a skirt's fold,
lodged in a dusty pocket,
one unscattered seed remains
which called to growth with contrite promises of loving care,
will fill a field.

April 27th 96

Let the women keep silence

Miriam settled down among the women
as they brushed the sand out of the folds of cloth
and combed it from their loosened hair.
Then the chattering of the timbrels
and the whooping of the public song
stuttered into silence
as she told the real tale.

Midwives, mothers, sisters,
and the daughter of a Pharaoh
conspiring,
not to save a nation,
but for one small child
squalling in the reed beds.
One living,
and so many drowned.

And her words,
covered by the drifting sand
linger deep beneath the surface,
to be tapped by those who have the will to dig.


Jan 7th 96
Exodus 15.20-21
1 Timothy 2.11-12

The shepherd's story

Sitting here alone
I watch the sheep graze -
wondering if it's time to move on to the next hill,
I expect the pasture's long and lush by now.

I rise and stretch and, in the corner of my eye,
catch a glimpse of red and yellow,
leaping,
crackling,
down there at the bottom of the hill.
A campfire?
No, there's no one round but me to light one.
It must be a bush ablaze.

There isn't any danger of it spreading
but I clamber down to take a closer look.
Yes - just a bush on fire, that's all.
The flames are fierce, but in the heart of it,
- how odd! -
the leaves are fresh and green.

A strange thing, nature, isn't it?

Still - can't stand staring all day, can !?
Not when there are sheep to be looked after.

As I climb the hill, I think,
"The next time I see Moses at the waterhole,
I'll have a tale to tell him -
if I don't forget.!


June 6th 95
Exodus 3.2

Walking on water

Walking on water?
Any fool can do it!
All you need's a long, cold spell,
the grip of an unflinching freeze,
and every atom's locked into its rigid place,
secure beneath your feet.

The real test comes
when sun softens the air
and the weeping ice
begins to groan and creak
and each step needs a new decision.


March 22nd  95

He is here

He is here,
blood-streaked from his mother's womb,
slippery purple with rage
- ejected from comfort -
helplessly beating the cold air
in the powerless protest of childhood.

He is here
in voiceless pain,
naked,
debased,
unnamed with the dead of the killing fields.

He is here
in the commonest things of life.
In rough wine, acid on the tongue
and the crumbling bread of the poor.

He is here
unremarked,
in the eyes which ask for help.

He is here, this Lord of Heaven.
He has slipped, unnoticed, into the thread of life.
He is here, this God of holy splendour.
Commonplace and ordinary,
he has soaked himself into all that is overlooked,
saying,
"Touch me,
  break me
  eat me."

He is here,
he is here,
he is here.


May 89

An encounter with a man who "erred on the side of tradition"

On a crisp November morning
when your house, assured and spacious,
relaxed in russet sunshine
and the odours of the autumn
you welcomed me.

And all around the pale, polished rooms music waited;
the mute spinet spread with just-played airs;
pavanes and casual fugues left elegantly hanging
in mid-phrase.

And as I watched
you danced, with words, a delicate gavotte,
ancient and unchanged,
tracing with rapt care the long-loved patterns you had learnt.
Then, holding out a hand, you gently steered me towards the ballroom,
...and there,
...and there,
...and here I should have set my feet,
to follow the unspoken rules.

But I was wild and wicked
and the winter wind ran laughing through my hair,
spinning jigs and reels around my head.
And rising from the moon-drawn sea,
mischief and miracle have given birth to laughter,
unfurled like white wings,
holy and hovering,
riding the thermals of a God-breathed world.

Apologies are empty gifts
- but nonetheless -
I would have danced your straight lines and sharp corners
if I were not so stumbling,
stiff,
ungraced in your ballroom.
And so, sighing,
all I offer are some wind-whirled steps
and slender, flexing faith,
love-launched from the high cliffs.


Nov 89

When I was going through the process of selection for training and ordination, women couldn't yet be ordained as priests - the debate which would eventually lead to the vote permitting it was often very heated . Those of us entering selection and training (as deacons, which was the only role open to us) often found ourselves coming up against opposition, sometimes from the people who were part of the selection process itself. This poem was written after an interview with someone very significant in the selection process (who I won't name!) He was very gracious and kind, but explained to me that, though he was part of the Church's selection process, he was personally opposed to the ordination of women as priests because he "erred on the side of tradition." The phrase stuck with me, summing up an attitude which all women ordinands faced, and which the early generations of women priests have continued to face.. 
He really did have a spinet in the room where we met. 

Michaelmas Daisies

I wrote this poem for those who were ordained at the same time as me, near the feast of St Michael and All Angels - Michaelmas. At the time, most ordinations happened in our diocese at Petertide, the feast of St Peter in late June. During our pre-ordination retreat a priest who came to celebrate Holy Communion for us brought in Michaelmas daisies and gave them to us as a gift to focus our minds on this special feast. This poem was my response to the gesture. 


Reckless gestures,
summer's dying cries,
they hope, forlornly, that their unspectacular flowers
(rather too small and prone to mould)
will hold the darkness back a while.

So different from their early summer cousins
- blooming easily in the sap-surged months -
Michaelmas daisies know they have it all against them
as the year's night closes.

Yet, in suicidal faith,
they cast their brave flowers
to the jaws of autumn.

They perhaps, 
like us, are glad to hear 
they have archangels on their side,
not just the wavering friendship of St Peter.



Sept 30th 94

After the family service

The children's words, like pigeons
fluttering from their grasp at all angles,
battering the silence with their keen wings
flew around me,
and the air was thick with their escaping thorughs.

Hours later I am still watching
the stray feathers
settle.


March 13th 94