Tidings by Ruth Padel

number one bae

The Voice of Silence

I am the oldest angel, the dark side of the brain. 
Everything untold, suppressed, unseemly or wild 
is under my protection. I am Charoum, 
Angel of Silence. I am the seed of fire 
in a hearth you thought was cold, 
the stillness when you step into moonlit snow
and who you are in private. I appear 
whenever surface cracks, lustre 
and veneer wear thin. Silence, you say, 
when you suddenly make room for wonder. 
I am less and less here. But tonight, for twenty-four 
strange hours in the darkness of the year, I have a voice -  

for this is Christmas Eve, when everything hidden  
comes alive. Children’s toys
that have rolled under the sofa or stayed 
in the cupboard unplayed-with for years,
the mice you weren’t aware of in the wall, 
your own unspoken longing to be given
a little more by life: suddenly, if you listen.  
every unnoticed thing can talk. 
And so can I. Tonight 
I play a part in everyone’s secret search 
for something better. Come with me
to St Pancras Old Church, on a little London hill
runed with twenty centuries of human stories.   

Nearby, shops are closing on Camden High Street, 
Euston Road. The sky is that bruise-colour 
you hardly think is sky, and sodium lights 
from the station terminal 
flicker in glass sides of the bus shelter 
like a zodiac on mica. 
London’s neon glory falls 
on wet-purple tarmac of Royal 
College Street and its last-minute traffic:
on roadworks, traffic cones, surveillance 
cameras above the door of a homeless hostel 
and the final Eurostar before the Christmas break.

Below us, evening pads down Pancras Road 
and pokes its nose through shy, half-open doors 
of girls tying last-minute mistletoe 
in Goldington Crescent, Unity Mews, Penryn 
while young men fresh from the gym
zip back the first ring-pull of lager.

Up here, the evening glides over golden moss 
on the flat-top tomb of Mary Wollstonecraft 
where her daughter - whom she never knew, 
and died giving birth to – used to meet her lover, Shelley, 
in secret. And here is the Hardy Tree 
where a young surveyor, not yet a writer, 
ordered to clear consecrated land 
to make the new thing, Railway, fanned 
dug-up grave-stones like slices of grey bread
round a sapling ash in a memorial 
wheel. Now the roots, look, flow and tentacle 
through crumbled names on lichened marble.
   
People are trickling through the gates, up the path,  
around the monuments and into church: a stream 
of fur-trimmed anoraks and trailing scarves
for the Children’s Service. Those two figures  
hurrying because they’re late 
are Sue and her daughter, Holly. 
Holly is seven. She’s a pony, 
prancing on the firefly shimmer 
of LED Light-Bringer trainers 
through a thousand-year-old arch 
to a shrine built over a Roman altar  
on the bank of the River Fleet - 

long covered over, like the secret hopes, hidden 
in every soul, which might flare out tonight 
in joy, or disappointment, in loneliness 
hardest to accept this time of year, 
or else might bear new fruit. 
That’s why I’m here. I belong with secrets 
kindly kept, with possibilities, with mute. 
     For what might a mysterious birth, witnessed 
by distant shepherds and foreign kings, 
longings conjured up by giving, gift and given, 
and this time-stopping rift in every schedule - 
what might Christmas do, to all of us?

Ruth Padel will be performing extracts from her new Christmas Poetry collection Tidings on 29th November in the King’s College London Chapel on Strand. In her recent article in The Guardian, Ruth discusses a Christmas journey on homelessness, living near one of the first sites of Christianity in England, and how poetry is like sculpting.

Link to Guardian article

Click here to get your FREE tickets to the Poetry and Christmas event

Ruth Padel

About Ruth Padel

Ruth Padel has published nine poetry collections. The most recent, Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, short-listed for the T S Eliot Prize, explores creativity, the Middle East, the crucifixion, and the image of rift in the Holy Land. She is Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Trustee of the Zoological Society of London. Awards include First Prize in the National Poetry Competition and a British Council Darwin Now research award. She teaches poetry at King’s College London. Ruth’s prose books include a study of Greek myth on rock music and opera, much-loved works on reading contemporary poetry, a book on tiger conservation and a novel on wildlife crime.