A Reading from the Book of Sappho

 

I have never heard anything but love 

spoken from that pulpit 

yet it is the pulpit 

so ornate, solid and ancient 

no room for me in its divine tapestries 

 

I have loved this church 

with its scent of incense and sea breeze 

ashes and wine 

I have loved its red-brown bricks and cool stone floor 

the stained glass casting colors on my face 

a flash of seasons, of  

a wide-eyed toddler, clutching at the rainbows in the air, 

joining in a high shout of   

‘allelula, allelula!’ 

(the congregation chuckles) 

a young girl with holy sawdust in her mouth 

(and the first taste of wine on her tongue) 

a girl stepping to the altar to sing, her eyes catching those same rainbows 

as she leads the song of  

‘alleluia, alleluia’ 

(the congregation smiles) 

 

Despite what I have felt about God 

I have always loved that dome 

all weightlessness and light 

have loved its priest for his shortness and baldness 

his kindness and faith 

like the blind and lovely owl who sings for a dawn only he can see 

 

And it is here, with the smiling saints of my youth 

letting their light be mine 

with two centuries of flawed goodwill woven into the bricks 

that I saw myself in white, 

loved ones’ footsteps against marble floor 

soaring skyward in varied tones 

as will the ‘alleluia, alleluia’ 

just as so many times before 

and with the faith of a child I knew 

that one day this place I have loved  

would seal my greatest love  

and in the light of its face we would become one 

 

And yet as the years went by the light bared 

something in me some would call unholy 

and as I sung I felt it move in me 

the white of my dress, the look on his face 

obscured by the sudden flare of colorful light 

these saints of my youth and their irony 

for now that dream is made a coin 

and one side is dark as the pulpit’s wood  

beside the golden cross 

 

Their light plays upon my eyes and they call to me 

‘little saint, you, the singer of hymns,  

do you believe in his love?’  

and I cannot answer but to say  

‘all I know of love 

is this flawed, lovely dome under a sea-wet sky 

and a girl with eyes more holy than the host’. 

 

and the saints of my youth are smiling, but they are hard to see 

behind the spectres of long-robed men sickening with gold and old age 

who say there is no room for me 

in this place I love 

 

And I will not under this dome be knit,  

soul in soul 

with the earthly heaven I hope to find 

in whoever sees in me a love worth chasing 

and I will mourn this 

I cannot do otherwise.  

and even as I sing aloud the  

‘alleluia, alleluia’ 

it is a cry against the serpentine myth which stretches 

languorous and vile  

across the centuries 

crowding out the grace I have always found in this place 

leaving no room in its rafters 

for my love to roost.  

 

This poem is about: 
Me
My community
My country
Our world

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