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“Head of a woman”, (c.1475-80), by Leonardo da Vinci


Yes, I believe, but what do I believe?
Leave out the bits conveniently that stick
Stiff in my throat and seem much too absurd,
Or look too much a conjuror's bad trick,
All those measurements of Arks (Noah's and Covenant's)
As if they mattered, Paul laying down the law unyieldingly,
Or churches filled with soft moans and cheery ditties
Like some third-rate American musical,
Waugh's "chapter of blood-curdling military history",
And bleating synods bickering over women . . .
The objections are so many, the stumbling-blocks
Trip me at almost every turn, until
Exhaustion makes me silent. Dare I say:
Yes, I believe, because despite all that
It's true and trusted, and I hear him speak
Clear in his mysteries direct to me?
The accusers come to demand his rough judgement.
He scratches something in the dust, and finds
The woman taken in adultery standing there
Alone, and the accusers crept away
Knowing their guilt, knowing their impotence.
The gentle riddles of the parables,
That last great cry high on the bloody cross,
The stone rolled back, and Mary suddenly
Knowing his voice, and all the voices raised
At Pentecost in those alien tongues,
Appearing, disappearing, going on,
The bread and wine, the simple reached-for things
So difficult to swallow. Yet I believe.
"Lord, I believe: help thou my unbelief".

Words of Comfort from a Bed of Pain

Trigeminal neuralgia, sciatica-
These great Romano-Graecisms, disabling, dominate:
Not "life-threatening" but telling me each day
Each day is closer to the end of things.
At first I scream, take handfuls of bright pills,
Then settle down to hobbling here and there
Governed by gentle repetition, little ploys, two sticks-
How to pee, get dressed, sit up, sit down,
Move across rooms, at last flop into bed.
It's like a parody of infancy
But now fixed at the far end of my life,
A kind of preparation. Well, I'm cheered
By habit, little victories, another day
Pushing the pain a few minutes away,
Locked in an ungovernable spasm.
Exercise is no good: I've read the books
And peered at diagrams, and tried the lot,
Then, lashed into some fixed-tight Gordian knot
And my right jaw shot with electric shock,
I wait till the things die down, and brood on death
Which cannot be like this, must be far off,
A something which is nothing, not these medical
Theatrical mouthings of Graeco-Roman vocables.

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