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Three poems by Anne Elvey

  • 13 November 2006

Torquay cliffs Ochre opens into dark— seaweed lairs—where ocean sheds its leather clear to the cool inside, and the close-ceilinged air pricks my skin. Loose hair snags on shell shards, random amid tight grains, as waves’ insistence builds and takes— hollows; walls— and selves stone here without eye and tongue. Earth tells itself in this dense unwhispering chill, sea’s breath fingering my ears. My eyes taste salt. In a thousand, thousand years of cliff’s becoming, I visit the touch of a child at my side. The water between our toes appears clear. Yes! (Yet the cinder scent of heaven). And skin shivers at the solemn courtesy of things.


Coming into town from Holy Thursday to Ash Wednesday At the dark turn of the hill, the track of family prayer draws me toward home. Beyond the window’s silhouette of self, a vast emptiness—tomorrow pocked with rain—will echo sky. Yet now, clear of this bend, with faintest shiver of silk the soft chasuble of night is laid for morning’s mass. I remember: in the child’s church the stone communion rails are white marbled with grey: all quarried, cut and polished, and set to mark faith’s limit, as golden gates seal the sanctuary from a toddler’s desire to play. But outside, in evening’s shadow a cow stirs and the peal of consecration sounds. Earth’s tabernacles open to the world. And breath of vigil late on Maundy night is quick with autumn chill. Once more we set aside the vestments of our hopes and travel light, while labourers print the city’s brow with ash: Remember you are dust. Peace, like the scent of rain approaching, is the measure of our procession, a welling from the land.


Eucharist Under the pew two rows ahead lies a beetle, with its motorcycle gleam of carapace, wings folded underneath and six stiff legs extended. Body glows against the dry wood of the floor. A hymn is sung; the water's crossed and slaves set free. I wait to see if you will turn and live. But someone shifts and feet brush near your corpse. The plate goes by. The gifts are brought and raised. We stand by rote, then bend to kneel. Our bodies sign a stilling chance of change, and benediction echoes in the blood. No breath is yours. Does God breathe here? As words make flesh of bread, and matter turns to dust, as hands stretch out to bless, I