Three poems by Anne Elvey


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.



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 look for the pin that fastened this scarab
upon a pharaoh's breast.



submit a comment

Existing comments

I have to say I do not understand the point of the last poem. I know that poetry does not have to have a "point", but this one seems rather indulgent.
anna merson | 15 November 2006

I think the last poem has a wonderful quality - a stillness, a moment described - that is excellent. it captures a mood.
Andrew Johnson | 15 November 2006

I used some lines from all three poems for personal prayer and all helped me. Thank you, Anne. All, I think, possessed a certain stillness that Andrew mentioned.
Maryrose Dennehy | 15 November 2006

The force of the poem surely lies in putting together the little death of the beetle and the Big Death of the Eucharist. But is religious poetry of this kind really possible? Aren't images of Eucharist, benediction, chasuble and ciborium so narrowly and fuzzily religious now that you can't use them without making the everyday fuzzy and dreamy?
Isn't religious poetry an oxymoron?
Dan McGonnigal | 15 November 2006


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up