“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 stickStiff 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 dittiesLike 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-blocksTrip me at almost every turn, untilExhaustion makes me silent. Dare I say:Yes, I believe, because despite all thatIt’s true and trusted, and I hear him speakClear in his mysteries direct to me?The accusers come to demand his rough judgement.He scratches something in the dust, and findsThe woman taken in adultery standing thereAlone, and the accusers crept awayKnowing 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 suddenlyKnowing his voice, and all the voices raisedAt Pentecost in those alien tongues,Appearing, disappearing, going on,The bread and wine, the simple reached-for thingsSo 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 dayEach day is closer to the end of things.At first I scream, take handfuls of bright pills,Then settle down to hobbling here and thereGoverned 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 infancyBut now fixed at the far end of my life,A kind of preparation. Well, I’m cheeredBy habit, little victories, another dayPushing the pain a few minutes away,Locked in an ungovernable spasm.Exercise is no good: I’ve read the booksAnd peered at diagrams, and tried the lot,Then, lashed into some fixed-tight Gordian knotAnd my right jaw shot with electric shock,I wait till the things die down, and brood on deathWhich cannot be like this, must be far off,A something which is nothing, not these medicalTheatrical mouthings of Graeco-Roman vocables.