Descent by Phillip Medhurst

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Phillip Medhurst


Brand beat edda,
doom on doom.


My sark, so soft, in a trice can shift
To spears, cloud-white, that scythe above
The sorry squats of thought-bound men.

The seas wave-wrinkled, plough-furrowed fields
Frown as I fly on the road of a swan,
And sing, unheard, like a soul outgone.


There comes a time when the past, unthanked,
Sinks to its death - forgetfulness.
Gone then the men who fired the throng
Who thirsted for more of their heady mead.
Shapers should share their hoarded lore.

Grim is this life without glee in the hall,
Happy recall, and tales well-turned,
Which heard, once fired the hearth-warmed floor.
Then brave deeds sink without a fight.
Shame on us all when the owl owns night.


Behind the grimy concrete and
Glaucoma'd glass old Pelles groans.
The stain grows wider from his groin.
© Phillip Medhurst. 2009. Page 1 of 16

He tries to read the ceiling-cracks.

Once-great Mordrain, downed by strokes,
Enquires of the upraised Host.
He knows too well one certainty:
His days of usefulness are past.

Elsewhere a youth is kneeling at
A stream, and catches silver to
His downy lips. By this refreshed,
He sets out sick-visiting.


Her hair, ash-grey, is now dyed red:
a phoenix risen from the dead.


Seianti Hanunia Tlesana
Now wants to protest. But the lock of
Her jaw-bone and loss of her front-teeth
(As well as her flesh) means that she is
Unable to speak for herself and
Is glad to accept this scribe's service.

When still in her prime she foresaw in
Her wisdom decay would prevail. Thus
Some clay was amassed, and instructions
Were given to artists to model
Her image seductive and buxom,
All tinted in natural colours.

Thus she was shown forth as a gift to
The future, that this work of beauty
Might sound a soft echo of pleasures
That she brought to men. The fine lady,
This done, could put up with old age and
The dribbling of lips that in youth were

Adorned with love's whispers and kisses
Before her sweet breath became foetid.
© Phillip Medhurst. 2009. Page 2 of 16

And so her life's shade could endure the
Denial of sunlight, content that
Her beauty shone over her coffin,
Preserved just as she had decided.

But cruel necromancers, the priests of
Your science, put flesh on the time when
She did not have beauty, so they could
Enjoy some cold cerebral pleasure.
This paltry addition to the sum of
Man's knowledge has cost her too much. In

The impotence that death has imposed her
Indignant remonstrance can not be
Sustained without pity's assistance
In place of the promptings of love. But
True praise, she asserts, must derive from
Erections desired, not from duty.


If immortal, where would be
Our zest for life?
Apathy would freeze us all
To monuments.
So come, Oblivion, as friend:
A longed-for harm -
Pyramidic heavy, light
As chamber-dust.
Death eternal grant, O Lord
Of Sudden Ends.
Smeared with necroleptic balm
Your bullets sing.


Sam found a little knife
While wand'ring in the ward.
When nurses tried to truss
The old man to a chair,
He cut their knotted tape
And made good his escape.
© Phillip Medhurst. 2009. Page 3 of 16

But is he strong enough
To grab with steady hand
The starched lapel of Life-
In-Death's white coat and crash
That cranium's empty dome?
That way, he might get home.


Since Adam delved and Eva span
Man's waywardness has spoiled God's plan.
Disease and death here level all;
Our nakedness reveals a Fall.
Though Christ could make a corpse to eat,
To feed this child would be a feat.
Though God could make a bush to speak,
A dumb child tells us who is weak:
For it can neither dig nor spin,
And day by day its limbs grow thin.
Such is the consequence of sin.


Each head, bowed down with several cares
Is raised to watch the sacrifice
Proceed to where Jehovah waits
To host a feast that famishes.
This flock anticipates a goat
That stumbles on the precipice.
We cannot spare our sympathy.
With it our karma vanishes.


As swift as eye-of-reason's blink
Consent, in waiting, parted lips.
As quick as pulse could leap to beat
Of wing, her cry let fly to air
Where word met Word. Thunder unrolled -
Salvations's sentence in pursuit
© Phillip Medhurst. 2009. Page 4 of 16

Of spirit’s lightning dart to soul
Pre-hushed. Her heart, inviolate still,
Now known, knew all. So All the valley
Filled, and pure Love’s river swelled,
Then brimmed to shed its healing tide on time.


Mary, maid and mother - both -
Conceives divinity.
(Fire, we're told, does not consume
Her pure virginity).

You who tread on holy ground
Put on simplicity.
If He is to be born, God needs
All your complicity.


In inky shadows sages scratched,
Got drunk on mythic wines.
Philosophies were sometimes hatched
From patterns in the signs.

Yet three, drawn on by astral light,
With minds as clear as day,
Traversed the sands to catch a sight
Of Truth in swaddled clay.


I curse the day on which my so-called friend,
Persuaded by my sisters, chose to come
And bellowed at me in my cosy den
Where I had slept for days all neatly wrapped
In perfumed swaddling-bands. For up till then
My aches and wants and cares were left outside
My fortress sealed against the world and time.
But now I am re-born with my old bones.
© Phillip Medhurst. 2009. Page 5 of 16

Conclusion to my life has all been robbed:
I must endure the painful swell again.
Though I am made a sign I now repent
The impulse of my blood which leapt too quick,
For peace by any should not be disturbed
When it by natural means has been conferred.
When brute creation first brought me to birth,
I felt no obligation. Flesh and all
I made of it was mine. But now each breath
Compounds my debt to an impatient god.


Pains of childbirth, then of dispossession,
Leaping heart, then steady retrogression
Was all angelic flutters came to bring.
Fair salutations had a farewell sting.

And Death's dark angel did not pass my door,
But slammed the board, demanding more and more.
My God, you owe this to me: let me see
Wherefore my child has now forsaken me.

I want to see him rise to tear the veil,
And borne by angels his kind father hail,
As his bejewelled banner he unfurls,
His blood its rubies and my tears its pearls.


A tree is butchered into beams,
Torn flesh emblematised,
As Jesse's rod is re-conceived -
Delivered cruciform.

Adorned with jewels, hung with gold,
The ark becomes a rood.
A flotsam of humanity
Drowns in a sea of blood.

© Phillip Medhurst. 2009. Page 6 of 16


I bear this weight with dignity,
For meaning is in symmetry -
Or so it seemed that way, before
I lost my elasticity.

I chiselled him - the crucified -
As handsome then: a slumbering lord,
And Mary still resplendent in
Her prime, and poised, and aureoled

In draperies. But now he droops
As heavy as a corpse will be,
And she, wrapped up against the cold,
Just clutches at this clod, her son.

I had to come in person and
Join in this undertaking, but
I'm growing old, now don’t know
Where beauty is. And that's the truth.


Though man-proportioned, Christos shrinks:
A God kenotic made.


My heart goes down to Hell with him,
Though I must shut my eyes
To what he sees. I fear the dark,
But trail with quiet tread
Lest he looks back,
And weakening, lets me cling to him.

For he has work to do within
That senseless void, and I
Must be a hovering thing and hope
That he will see the light
Again, and say
That unmade, made again, is good.
© Phillip Medhurst. 2009. Page 7 of 16


To me it seemed a comforting idea,
Too welcome, too sublime to be untrue
That love and meaning could thus rendez-vous:
Be gazed upon, and touched.

But doubts persist that I imagined Him.
When He did not appear I then assumed
A love that God in fact was loath to show
Unto The Crucified.

Yet can there be conclusion to my grief
If I can never cling to one who walks
Within the graveyard of my dreams, with voice
Unsilenced by his pain?

And does my vision promise me too much?
Does Christ Himself recoil from from ill-placed trust,
Compelled to say, "Noli me tangere" -
That flesh can never stay.


O Christ, thy crown is broke in two pieces:
Give half to me, O give half to me.

O Christ thy cloak is riven in pieces:
Give some to me, O give some to me.

And I will mould a smaller crown,
And patch a cloak for me.

And I shall go down, down,
Down unto the sea.

And the sea shall part for me.


The rich reduced, the poor endowed,
The weak are raised to thrones of power.
The good Lord rules while kings are cowed;
He undermines the tyrant's tower.

© Phillip Medhurst. 2009. Page 8 of 16

In tatters, stripped, from field or hedge,
God calls us to his banquet spread.
Supersubstantial manna falls,
Our daily nurture.

The full are starved, the empty fed,
The fertile pine, the barren bear.
He flattens fields, gives landless bread;
Both weal and woe our God can share.

I am his wheat. I shall be ground
By tooth of beast to make fine flour,
Unleavened bread - to do His will,
As done in heaven.


These first-fruits pledge what is to be
A growing and a ripening sea.
His promise raises us from sleep
And leads us out across the deep.


My verdict is as follows (mark it well):
Francesco Bernadone is a fool.
He thinks that he can strip our Mother Church,
And rob her of her dowry held in store.

If she is to be wed to high-born men,
We should not treat her grossly as a whore
Who gives her favours freely, from the heart,
To all who beat a path up to her door.

Cathedrals are not built with lepers' hands,
Or chantries by mere gutter-deaths endowed.
Bejewelled shrines must dazzle tear-filled eyes,
Not rustic dolls laid out on heaps of straw.

Francesco and his half-crazed crew may stalk
Unto their hearts' content this countryside,
But they shall not invade our frescoed walls,
Or stigmatise the icons we adore.

© Phillip Medhurst. 2009. Page 9 of 16

We rest secure beneath our mosaiced domes.
The chant of priest, the tinckle of the coin,
Ensures the soul's release, the sinner's balm,
While gospel-truth is safe beneath the floor.


A cherub pressed me to my knees:
He held a flaming spear.
He struck again, and then again:
As much as I could bear.

I soon abandoned all desire
For this sweet pain to cease.
No other bliss compares to this

I greet this torment willingly.
I fondly hug the wound.
Love's quarry, breathless, flees no more,
For she is run to ground.


Within this cave I heard "That Thing"
Disclosing how our prayers
Could kindle light, transfiguring
Those crippled by their cares.

And thus re-made, a sluggish flow
Could spring to healing spate.
Old bones Could pave the way to show
Changed flesh, immaculate.

Beyond the paling moon, the dawn,
An azure cincture round the earth,
Revealed to preternatural sight
How dew will fall to arid earth.

© Phillip Medhurst. 2009. Page 10 of 16