Three Oxford, England Sermons
(Written on 4.9.2001…at time of build up to Afghanistan War. Pre 9/11 and all that followed.)
Is an object, a ball of lead shot
I carry in my stooping frame.
It has grown, layer upon layer,
like a stone in the gut
each time I see a smug, ruddy faced
son or daughter of the shires
walk blindfold through these doors.
They do not stop, for they carry no guilt.
It is washed free of their hands each day
by the sure-footed minions who keep
the ticking clock ticking, the fountain fed
The trout swimming in the moat, the hedges well kept.
All so that power may be maintained
and their god-given purpose blessed.
Were they that blind in Victoria’s reign
that they did not see the bubbling corpses,
fly-blown dotted across their maps
or were they already such fanatics, lost in biblical phrases,
pure King James and Wesleyan hymnals
that each dead pagan was already a soul saved.
Now the maps are reversed, repainted and
the empire has slow-dissolved from pink to white and red.
As a new dogma falls from the T.V’s secular pulpit
the truth of democracy, the right of goodness falls
upon those who deserve it whatever their creed
but the result is the same
tents and bibles and corpses riddled with gentles.
Politics, more or less.
We do not write of politics.
We write of actions and death.
There is no margin for solace.
There is only the facts or less.
The corpses burning are counted.
Their collapse noted down.
So that posterity may judge
them martyrs or villains or less.
We wrap ourselves as a nation
in blankets of powder and guns.
And stand on the chalk hills
defying the invader to come.
But the myths have all grown tawdry
the broken-spined bible spills forth
welcome to the first 19th century war
you can read about winning before it’s launched.
A gentle space, a path of land beyond words
is all I ask now from this threadbare seat
as the drizzle of language washes through
the gutters and stains the skirts of Oxford
A place free of the shackles of past and blood
where free-born men can stand alone
in the muddied fields and not be called
back to the shearing, the grit and the chaff
clogging the lungs, or the spores of industry
that dribble down their chin at morning.
No more nightmares of the steel press slamming
arms into oblivion every time they wake.
Born to an open field, twenty years in a cot
twisted by the accident, his wife mops him down
each evening as the speedway hums on the city rim
and another van squeezed with immigrants pulls in
to a lay-by in a pitch black night of no moon
and currency blows across the nettles
In another week fresh hands are washing dishes
no questions asked beside the high table
under portraits of men who ransacked
their villages in the 1870’s they squirm
to avoid the buzz of the drunken chatter
these ghosts of an empire returned
Then one girl in each silver dish she passes
sees the reflections of Nuffield’s factory scarred men
twin ghosts of the machinery of privilege
dancing in the chandelier’s flame.