‘Church Crawling’: a poem by John Greening

Fotheringhay © Kevin Gardner

 
 
 

    Church Crawling

for Kevin Gardner

 

Leighton Bromswold
Yes, locked, of course. And once we find the key
it’s comically huge, and hard to turn,
but when it does, George Herbert’s century
comes tumbling, sliding, singing at my phone

from beams and dust and tracery and stone
as fresh-cut woodwork metaphysically
invites us to a pulpit. Choose which one.
For preaching of the Word? Or poetry?

 

Steeple Gidding
It’s down a bumpy track, beside a field
of bumps, where a man and his manners failed.
The church is just an empty frontispiece,
though Cotton on the wall might help us trace

a web of stories to the primal source
of all our reading: whose library it was,
whose books became these tombstones, how the world
discovered learnedness must lose its hold.

 

Little Gidding
I often come. Not like a broken king,
more of a giddy pilgrim, remembering
the day I took that warm untroubled hand
there on the lawn at Ferrar House – profound

bubbling wapentake – before they could bring
his fame within the shaded panelling
of Herbert and Eliot, or call upon
Toomebridge to read the lesson. Lines from John.

 

Aldwincle
The prologue: here he was born. A smiling head
pokes out theatrically and shows us where
he entered. Next scene, All Saints: cross, admire
the stage-lit font they dipped him in, its lid

with hand-gel left there for the hand that’s written,
‘We’re champing’. What? Until the plot’s laid bare –
to camp in churches is the thing this year
of strange things. Epilogue: a plaque to Dryden.

 

Fotheringhay
Finally, this most final name. And yet
it hasn’t finished. Something in the light
is darkening still. You move uncomfortably
as if you felt that fetterlock gyrate

up on the lantern. It’s windless. At the great
absence of a fractal sky which might have set
the falcon free, it’s what we cannot see
and can’t return to. You must catch your flight.

 

11th October 2021

 

John Greening

About John Greening

A Cholmondeley and Bridport winner, John Greening has been a TLS reviewer and a judge for the Eric Gregory Awards. His recent books include To the War Poets and The Silence (both Carcanet), the pamphlets The Giddings (Mica, 2021) and Omniscience (Broken Sleep, 2022) along with editions of Blunden, Grigson and Crichton Smith, the collaboration Heath (with Penelope Shuttle), an Egypt memoir, a volume of essays (Vapour Trails) and the anthologies, Accompanied Voices and Hollow Palaces (with Kevin Gardner, who is editing his forthcoming American Selected, The Interpretation of Owls, for Baylor University Press).