Ex Cathedra

Beyond St Catherine’s Hill, the long chalice of river
sluices through the city, canals
Romans cut
dividing the Itchen into die-straight races.

Surrounding the Cathedral, water meadows;
a roe deer grants audience, midair
for a moment, then again
invisible into briar and scrub elm.

Across the sunken fields – plague pits, perhaps,
or plough roads the centuries abandoned –
the near distance reveals
the clutter of salvation, cold-chiselled saints
marking intervals of habitation, arcs of masonry
sailing over Saxon crypts.

Where faith remains, in bones
in painted boxes, in the Lady Chapel’s worn geometry,
the steepling stairs, the upper room
and gospels
fiery under glass – anon illuminations
except the epithets, Master of the Genesis Initial, Master of the Leaping Figures – the saved dead
thread the margins, anchored in the inks.

Along the walls, a thousand bindings –
the least accommodation of the text confirming
a commonplace of wombs, that
the beating of the heart begins
before its chambers form.

The musicians prepare for evening service.
The Wykehamists, and Pilgrim School scholars,
they too, prepare, the timpani readied –
outside, discreet black Saabs
through streets
the Romans engineered.

The meadows drain into a river
with no memory of itself, tricked long since
from its true course, forgetful still
by the ruined mill, the wider spaces
claimed by garrisons.

Along the banks, through shooting weir spray,
a smudge of wren
evaporates through ferns.

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