Shepherd

As a lad,
Eyes peeled,
Ears pricked,
Alert to every telltale
Sight and sound.
Adrenaline and crook at the ready
To ward off thieves and wolves.

The older ones
Relied on me,
Especially in the watches of the night.
It made me proud of my youth.

But that night
I heard nothing;
Saw no sign of approach.
One moment,
The familiar darkness,
The next,
Obliterating light.
Unbearable,
Heartstopping,
Fearful new reality.

An Other
Speaking words to change
Fear to wonder.
A tide of tidings
Awash with joy.
And the singing!
A song I have remembered
All my life.
Caught myself humming
In good times and bad.

How did we dare?
To abandon the flock,
And trot blithely to Bethlehem?
How did we dare?
Breach the privacy of a new mother,
Haltingly tell our excuse of a tale
Of light, of song, of angels?

Just a baby,
That’s all I saw.
Not a creature to interest a lad.
But I knelt because the others did.
Found myself putting my black-nailed finger
Into his little hand,
Feeling his small fist grip me tight.

When we got back,
The sheep were fine.
Hadn’t even wandered a crook’s length
We didn’t talk about it much after.
We never were talkers.

But sometimes I’d catch one of the others
Just gazing at the dawn, or the sunset,
With a tear in his eye.
Caught myself doing the same.
I can’t explain it.

Many years later
Far from Bethlehem –
And me now one of the ‘older ones’ –
The lad came back from town
With a tale of a preacher,
A miracle worker,
A maybe Messiah.
And suddenly
That song
Deafened me from the inside.
I just got up and left;
Just walked
Following that song.

And there was a crowd,
A rough lot mostly.
There was a man,
Just a man,
Talking just in ordinary words
But using them to say something extraordinary;
To say we all mattered to God.

And suddenly he looked right at me;
Picked me out of that whole crowd with his eyes
And smiled.
Then he said,
“Let me put it this way.
Just suppose you were a shepherd with a hundred sheep
And you lost one…”

copyright Tina Towey 2018

 

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On Castle Market – Via Dolorosa

A woman,
With a face of collapsed hope,
Flinching along the pavement,
Bordering the ruins of Castle Market.

Grey griefs beyond guesswork
Silted in the many, many lines,
Nooks, crannies, corners.
And only the cold ash embers
Of girlhood passions and desires
In her orphaned eyes.

I saw her only for moments,
Framed in the window of the bus
As it made snail progress
Towards my stop.
And then her defeated feet
Dragged her from view.

But I see her still.
And my body – too,too slow then –
Gets off the bus
And my hand – too,too slow then –
Reaches out to touch her face.
To lift her chin,
To wipe away the unshed tears
And the invisible sweat of despair.

I see
God with us,
Among us,
There on the street!
On her way to her own, private
Golgotha.

And I pray there may
Be a resurrection day
For her.
The woman
With the face
Of a suffering servant.

copyright Tina Towey 2018

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday:
The annual occasion
For the laity
To utter lines from the Gospel,
Aloud in Mass.

But
We only get to say
The mean lines,
The cowardly protestations,
To remind us of our responsibility now
For what happened then.
At fault, failing,
Fallen!

We hold our tame, desiccated, palm leaf crosses,
Wan imitations of lush, green branches,
Self-consciously, englishly singing our ‘Hosannas’.

When I was a child,
The palm leaves came pale and straight.
We had to fashion
Our own crosses;
An art handed down
And executed with varying outcomes,
Revealing something of personality alongside skill level.
Lopsided mine were,
Always.

At home
My mother kept the crosses
On hearth and mantlepiece.
Not superstitious,
When lightning and thunder
Rattled the roof and her courage,
She would
Burn a palm in the fire;
An acrid prayer offering for protection.
We never doubted it would work.

And so I keep them now,
These uniform-issue crosses,
Woven together higgledy-piggledy,
On a windowsill,
Although I have no fire.

And so here,
Here is a palm in the palm of your hand.
Palm cross my hand with silver;
Thirty pieces perhaps?
Here is your future.
You will let
Everyone
Down
At some point;
More than once, like as not.

But that is alright.
Your lopsided or uniform cross
May be a pale imitation,
But the green branches
Can still be seen.
The exultant shouts
Can still be heard.

See
Beyond the cruelty,
The meanness,
The cowardice,
The lies,
That made the crowd then,
That make us now
Less
Than what we truly are.

See
The stone in the heart
Rolled away
And sing it!
‘Hosanna!’

copyright 2017 Tina Towey

Lazarus

In the beginning,
I could not speak;
My throat full of sand and spices.

Since then
I choose not to .

I see the sideways glances,
Nudges as I cross paths,
The question unasked
Because they fear the reply,
What was it like
Being dead?

The answer?
I cannot give
Because the memory
– If it is even a memory –
Has spun away,
A dream irretrievable.

A mind and body
Of pins and needles;
My senses
My body
Clumsy now.
I wield them awkward and blunt,
Like a man in heavy armour,
Lumbering,
Trapped.
This is my new life?

Why did he do it?
Because he could?
To show off?
Because he couldn’t bear
To see a woman cry?

Because he missed you!
My sisters tell me.
And yet he is gone again
Without me.
Without explaining why.

No chance for me to ask,
What do I do now?
Resurrected
For what?
For how long?
Am I real?

How to live,
Again,
In this world
I left behind.
How to live
A new life,
In the old body,
In the old places.

Catching the tourist neighbours,
Awe-whispering over the snakeskin linen,
Filching pieces for their ‘healing properties’,
My sisters,
In rare agreement ,
Burnt the bindings
Without telling me
– The strange incense gave them away –
For fear I would wish to save
The souvenir of my ‘trip’.

They watch me
All the time
And sometimes,
For mischief,
I hold my breath;
Listening for the panic rising in theirs.
Then I exhale loudly
And they sigh in echo.

I know,
I know,
Cruel and ungrateful.

Now , from where I sit
Fussed into the shady warm,
Here
Rest here
The sun is blinding today!
I hear them on their familiar tracks.

Martha sighing theatrically through her chores
Mary deliberately oblivious,
Humming softly,
Contemplating the wind-skittered path to the hills.

Later
They will row,
Again.
Martha thunder,
Mary lightning.

And as before
They will look to me
To arbitrate, conciliate.

And I know
I can choose,
Now I am resurrected,
To be their old Lazarus,
Dear,
Dear brother,
Make our peace!

But I think
I who am now
Will not
Intervene.

copyright Tina Towey 2017

Mercy’s Quality

I am somewhat perplexed by ceremonies being held in churches to ‘close’ the doors of mercy as the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis comes to an end.

Mercy Shimmers;
A looking glass lake,
Precarious reflection
Of our possibilities.

The tension trembles;
Will it hold?

The outstretched arms
Strain
To keep the Taut.

Mercy shimmers.
It does not break.
It holds,
Is held,
As are we.

The reflection
Quivers,
But we can see
In the glass clearly,

Because
The outstretched arms
Stay
And strain
To
The last
Breath.

copyright Tina Towey 2017

One Foot In Front Of The Other

The everyday bravery
Of a smile to hide
The empty fridge
From the children.
Of stepping out of the door
Alone and newly widowed.
Of entering the pit cage
First day underground.
Of putting up your hand
“Please, Miss, I don’t understand.”
Of asking
“Will you marry me?”
Of coming into this world
And leaving it.

copyright Tina Towey 2016

The Hand Fasting

For Jo and Malcolm

A simple symbol,
The Weighty cord
Passed round,
And round,
And round again.

And knotted firm,
While they shyspoke
Heartbeat vows.

And we,
The witnesses,
Heart-fasted;
Bound also
In pledge of love.
We are
For them
Always.

When it was untied
And put aside,
We saw it still
In the gaze between them
Unbreakable.

copyright Tina Towey 2016