Joel Stickley | Commissioned Poems
At Goltho, a ploughed field bulges –
divulges its secrets one pottery shard at a time.
There was a village here.
Then, for six hundred years, just a church.
The new bell lurches in the wind,
headstones lean in at strange angles –
a tangle of brambles and branches and epitaphs.
“THE COMING OF THE LORD DRAWETH NIGH.”
The sky reaches down and smooths the edges of the bricks.
Fourteen forty-six was a bad year.
But, back before the crops failed,
there was a village here.
The rabbits dig up human bones
and undermine the church;
it perches on the hilltop like a crow.
A row of angels gather on the ceiling,
kneeling upside down in silent prayer.
They stare at the sloping floor,
hoping more than anything that this place stays up.
At the top of the slope,
with his back to the sun,
St Michael looks on and waits for heaven to be restored
by the fire of his sword and the strength of these stones.
And, in the unexplored warrens below,
the rabbits dig up human bones.
Nineteen paces lie between them.
Both have seen better days,
but the way he has his back turned
has earned a thousand years of mistrust.
As the dust gathers inside them both
and the undergrowth closes in,
she regards her twin with suspicion –
it’s an admission that he has aged a little better.
Trees tear open a fenced-off plot.
The graves squat in solid opposition;
their positions cannot change.
And, strange as it seems for those who have seen them,
these two are closer than we can know –
nineteen paces lie between them.
One day, the trees will take it back;
they stand packed in like undertakers in a lift.
Leaves drift nonchalantly around the door.
Eight hundred years – maybe more –
but they are patient. They have the time.
They have many generations and the wind on their side.
The saint himself was a military man,
so the bricks and tiles stand firm
and have a certain martial bearing.
But sharing the lift, quiet as you like,
are all these undertakers,
dressed root to tip in black.
There’s no way not to know it –
one day, the trees will take it back.
There is a quiet here.
As you steer carefully down the causeway,
a drop on either side,
it hides behind the trees, the gate
and hundreds of years. There is a quiet here.
The tower leans gently to the west;
the rest of the building just sits.
You know that it’s been waiting for you.
That weathered crest above the door
is more than just a decoration.
With some hesitation, you walk the path and step inside.
It feels as if something is drawing near.
Not quite a thing that you can name, but just –
there is a quiet here.