Sunday, 24 June 2012

Bus notes 7

      Three old women sit 
      beside themselves.
      One of them half smiles;
      the others won’t.
In singing together, “And can it be”,
they’re at war with the official exorcists.
      They could make a gold light
      burn all of us up
but they just keep on
with the song, wholly lost
in the tonal holy work 
and the remembered words.
      People are finding different ways
      not to hear.
The bus turns from the park
toward Winson Green
and the long, weighted line
of the prison wall.
      What on Earth is a hymn for?


  1. It is to save us.

    Same purpose as a poem like this one.

    Assuming that is we all of us are on Earth. (Last Chance Saloon, the big bothered sacred Blue Marble.)

    To turn from the park toward the long, weighted line of the prison wall... A history of song holy and unholy writ invisibly thereon, or perhaps scratched into the stone indelibly by the muted inmates of Time, as they pass?

    WB, these words call quietly to the soul.

    Can this be your calling, then?

  2. I would hope so, TC. I'd thought it was the teaching. It was a long struggle to find a way of living with that mistake.

    HMP Birmingham. There's enough of a stretch of wall to make space for a fair sized record. The wife and I would pass it each day on our way to work in Handsworth; a terrible presence.

    We're all too much shut in. I'm very glad those three graces are singing a way out.

  3. Yes yes yes. Powerful exorcism indeed, WB. I read this (and the Wesley hymn) almost immediately after sending a friend I occasionally sing shaped-note hymns with, a copy of Virginia Hamilton Adair's poem:


    The four windows of the one-room shack
    framed four mountains: Sheephole, Joshua Tree,
    San Gorgonio (still snow-crested in April),
    and eastward, a hill of white sand that turned pink at sunset.

    The man and the girl lay half nude on the bed,
    staring out the open door. In the silence,
    the wind hummed in the greasewood bushes
    and the man was humming softly a hymn tune
    she remembered from childhood:
    "'Where every prospect pleases,'" she said,
    "I used to think prospect was some kind of candy."

    A motorbike engine buzzed not far off and then stopped.
    They were both half asleep
    when an unexpected footfall made him start up.
    A stranger, heavyset, unsmiling, stood in the doorway.
    The man, barefoot, went quickly to the door.
    "Are you looking for the Browns?
    It's two cabins down the crossroad."

    The stranger said nothing but stared hard at the girl.
    "I won't ask you in," said the man.
    "My wife is not feeling well."
    "She looks to me like she feels pretty good," said the stranger.
    Her husband reached in the camp icebox at the door
    and took out a Coke, opened it, and handed it to the other man.
    In the desert you don't argue with thirst.
    The stranger took it, shook it, holding his thumb over the hole.
    He was still looking at the woman.
    He released his thumb and the foam spewed out onto the doorsill.
    "The wetter the better," he said.

    The two of them watched in silence as he turned and walked
    down the sand road toward his bike.
    "Thank you for keeping your temper," she said.
    "I had to. He had a gun in his pocket."
    "I just thought of the next line," she said.
    They laughed then, and sang softly together
    the old missionary hymn:
    "'Where every prospect pleases, and only man is vile.'"

  4. The Wesley poem has a tremendous force for me. I can never sing beyond the words, "My chains fell off..." All too .much resonance

    I didn't know the work of Virginia Hamilton Adair at all. Thank you for the introduction