18 December 2016

A tenebris ad lucem
From darkness to light

"And so my dearest Aunt I have to tell you
I have been given an old manuscript
of A Tenebris ad Lucem, which I must study
eating my way through its covers and leaves.
Its oak boards would be my book cover of choice,
 but on each vellum leaf of text the miniatures 
 of bright malachite and lapis lazuli, 
of gold and cinnabar, show stories so shocking
that it seems I am embarking on a journey
through a land of diabolical horrors.

"I walk now in a dark forest where dense foliage
overwhelms the light, and the stony path
leads only into a miasma of despair.
I peer out between massive trees to see
a site both of tragedy and savage beauty.
A great wall of water, Leviathan risen
from the ocean, pounds inexorably across
the land destroying everything in its path,
whole villages smashed, animals and men
tossed into the air like feathers in the wind.

"Across endless fields of battle, I hear nations
mourning their dead, the flowers of many forests
are cut down and shattered by mine and gun,
enemies attack in an unseemly dance
of cracking sinew, hot blood and broken bone.
The little Forest Owlet cries out for his home
disappeared under the blade of an illicit axe,
an Amoy Tiger roars in vain for his lost mate
while a single Great Humped Back Whale sings
his eerie threnody to a long empty sea.

"It is as if all the oppressed and dispossessed
of this land are gathered at my back with 
voices raised in a great Anthem of Destruction
which almost completely overwhelms me.
Numb, I shrink back into my orange shell,
fold my six legs and await my gruesome fate.
But the dark canopy falls away and tall figures
clothed in light glide across a sunlit plain,
proclaiming that love alone heals loss and sorrow,
and brings fresh hope into a world of fear.

"Boys who once carried rifles on their shoulders
play again in green fields beside the river,
the starving and the homeless are sheltered and fed,
prisoners are set free and old enemies embrace.
An Amoy Tigress comes out of the forest
two new cubs playing like kittens around her heels,
flowers wash the ground where blood once was spilled,
eager saplings spring from craters of devastation. 
It is a new song this shining world now sings,
a soaring Hosannah of love and joy.

"I make my way along the path through soft grass
into the golden light of a new day, 
through the final leaf of my book to find
the old oak board, gateway back to my home.
As I pass the figures of light, one with eyes
deep and dark as the waters of Bethesda,
gives me a blessing and I see that his wrists
are deeply scarred where nails were driven through.
And I bow low to this Man of Light and Peace.
I remain as ever your most affectionate nephew,
Apollonius Bostrichus Capucinus”

The Mark of Love

He sits in my bleak cold garden
perched lordly on the old oak table.
He does not move but stares unblinking,
not asking but demanding more
of the flame raisins he has found
in the cracked old Japanese bowl.

I watch him as he cocks his head
turning from one side to the other,
the dark eyes intelligent and sharp
reminding me of the rare talents
and avian persistence lodged
in this small being of brown and red.

“I am the little bird” he says,
“who, come the Spring, pours out his song
like a nightingale in the hedgerow
singing beneath the silver moon,
rich notes ringing through the warm night
to summon my love back to our nest.

“But once I flew into a cold stable
where a swaddled new born baby lay.
Ox and donkey slept soundly there, 
while the baby shivered in his bed
and his mother stretched out her soft hand
to caress my brown feathered coat.

‘Bird’ she said, ‘can you rebuild the fire?
For the night is icy and I fear
for my baby so helpless and so young.’
I flapped my wings like small bellows
and sang to her until the flames
leaped like fiery darts into the sky

“Consumed with a rare love for the child,
too close I went to the roaring fire
and the dull brown feathers of my coat
smouldered blood red bright in the darkness.
But the boy smiled in a deep sleep
and his mother offered me her thanks.

“She looked tenderly at my burned
feathers, and blessed me with a kiss
to set as a seal upon my heart.
I have fought for my territory,
and beak stabbed my feathered brothers
but still I carry the Lady’s mark of love.”

I remember now his constant harrying 
of the hungry Blue Tits, but how
can I resist those pleading eyes?
So I fill up the old bowl with fruit.
and, as he sits beside me to take it,
‘God bless you my little Red Breast’ I pray.