Saturday, 18 June 2011

A Poem written quickly to a theme; and a surprise visit from my father.

I am so pleased to have been asked onto East Leeds FM community radio to be part of the 13 hour readathon of Paul Auster’s ‘True Tales of American Life’, a large collection of stories from the people of the USA, and to have been invited on the afternoon before to present a poem live on air as part of the Writing on Air Festival

Thank you all for this opportunity to share in a local radio broadcast event.

Written for the Writing on Air festival from Monday 13th to Friday 17th 2011 at East Leeds FM; At the Chapel, on the theme of churches.

Of pulpits and pews
Memories of being in a church

My memories of being in a church,
Of looking up at pulpits and wondering
About the reason for sermons, religion and prayers.
They all come from the child-times with my father,
Who used to take me with him
On his pursuit of churches across England,
To see Old Saxon towers, Norman arches, gothic windows, flint walls,
And I would look for the gargoyles.
And over time I learnt to savour the smell
Of incense, polished oak and stone floors.
Of damp plaster and peeling paint.
Of rainy days,
When no pub would let children in.

His passion for church architecture perhaps was strange,
But recalling him now,
It brings back memories of his war,
A mobilisation that took him away from his immediate dreams and passions,
To the fighting in the Bocage Countryside
Just after D Day in the 2nd World War,
As he and his company fought towards Caen
And the liberation of France in ‘Operation Overlord’.
And from this stems his dislike for any strong smelling French cheeses,
Which reminded him of those war days,
Living, sleeping and fighting in deep sunken lanes and high-hedged small fields
Seeded haphazardly with the dead and decomposing bodies of cows and horses,
Of fellow and enemy soldiers,
The air reeking of their death
And casting forward though time
His vivid dislike for that smell,
And the avoidance of the disconnected memories
Of death of friend and foe
And the loss of innocent-nature and humanity
In those patchwork fear-ridden fighting fields.

And the story he told me of the time
When his commanding officer called him over.
The angry voice and bearing of the man showing clearly
That John was in for a bollocking from his superior,
That he was ‘in for it’ for some serious misdemeanour,
Something he’d got wrong,
Or order or action funked.
From his position at the signal-truck
He quickly rushed at the double,
Child-like and scared,
(I imagine with gut dropping and slack bowel apprehension)
He ran to the commander’s control vehicle and saluted.
And then, at that moment,
Before the judgement fell,
A heavy mortar came over,
Both the men dived for cover together, united
And the lorry John had just been in was hit and destroyed
Showing how transitory the concern about fear of authority really is,
How something so important,
Emotion cracking at one instant
Can transpose and become
Your guardian angel, your life-saver,
And it is all forgotten in the relief of still living,
Of breathing, and smiling.
‘Saved your life their Captain; what!
The parables of my father’s war,
Spoken so rarely in his life to me.
The horrors he saw he never really shared with others,
And the gap it left between him and me
Stand in the silence of the nave,
Around the tombs and in the humble choir and stalls
And maybe that is why I was always a little scared of churches as a child.

And so the church pulpits stand in my mind
As they stood in those churches of my childhood,
And in the churches of the villages in the Bocage,
Whose towers peered over the high-hedges
And deep narrow lanes of my Father’s baptism of war.
Those pulpits stand,
Preached from for hundreds of years
By priest, vicar and bishop,
Which together with the pews,
That we the people sit in,
Make up the body of these churches,
These communities bound together
By faith and authority.
These pulpits and pews stand,
Setting the cast of hierarchy
Casting reflections of this into our future,
Reflecting how our communities still stand today.
Can we step up into the pulpits elevated position,
To stand there ourselves and take a view, a stance?
Not to judge or become superior.
Can we allow ourselves to share a collective view,
An over-view of the generations
That stand divided by deep time-lines
And the impenetrable high-hedges of history?
And as we stand here in this chapel,
With the pulpit and pews divided but sharing this space
Where we wonder and hope for its future and growth,
I wonder if the youth of today
Will become aware of these stories of lives gone before,
Will see in this place the promise of a future
That can be grown from a shared vision.
Can drop the ranker of personal quarrels and competitive striving
And become still, just for a minute,
And descend into an inner place of peace and sharing.
And standing together, fulfil dreams that the future beckons.
Uniting the speakers and the listeners,
Uniting the memories that we all can carry forward
Into a community far greater
Than single personal recollections or dreams,
Celebrating a sense of future and past transforming.
Breathing in a soft beckoning night-time’s healing scent
Transforming the air and space here-in;
Into a safe creative space
And a shared welcome.

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