The Great Game

 

The hand
Comes
Out of the dark
And plays
The hand.

Impossible to know
Who.
Or why.

Are they playing?

Or being played?

Against the dark wood of the table
Under the swinging lantern
Only the dim shape of the cards can be seen.
Their pattern blurred,
greasy from much playing.

What lies on the table?

Is it
A trump card?
A winning streak?
Or a busted flush?

What is the game?
What are they playing for?

We know nothing.
We are not even inside the hut.
We stand in the cold dawn
On the uneasy grass
And wait.

All we know is that the stakes are high
As we look up
Fearful
Into
An empty sky.

Look for the silver lining

In the widening circles of Hell radiating through Syria,
Khan Sheikhoun
glows
with baleful fire.

But let us be grateful for the comfort
it brings in its wake,
as the vast, compassionate arms of Donald Trump
stretch
wide
over the world,
promising an end
to the brutality and suffering of humankind.

Let us stand united
against the cynicism that suggests
a failing president might
go to war
to save himself.

Who could believe
he would stride fearless
into the icy depths of the forest
to tomahawk the Great Bear
if he has been secretly rubbing him behind his ears all this time?

Look for the silver lining.

And God Bless America.

Written on Water: The Lantern of the West

1499

After the Saxon Abbey was a distant memory, and the first great Norman cathedral, built on the same spot, had also fallen without trace, our own Abbey was created because of the most famous dream in the history of Bath; the dream that began the Abbey we have today, and displayed itself in the ladders on the front, where the Angels toil ever upwards towards heaven – and, sometimes, plunge downwards to earth.. Bath Abbey – The Lantern of the West..

The Lantern of the West

By night,

Across the valleys and the hills,

streams the light;

 

By day,

sun pours through windows,

painting stone

sapphire,  emerald and gold ..

 

The Lantern of the West.

 

Inside

music rises to Heaven

painting the air

sapphire, emerald and gold..

 

The Lantern of the West.

The Lantern of the West.

 

Outside,

Angels climb stone ladders.

Like music,

Reaching

up to the Father..

 

Father! Father!

 

The Lantern of the West.

The Lantern of the West.

The Lantern of the West.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written on Water: St. Peter’s Fair

One thing the monasteries gave Bath is often forgotten; St Peter’s fair in 1106, the first street celebration in Bath with jugglers, musicians, fire swallowers, mummers, tightrope artists, food, drink and toy stalls, and of course, tourists, who thronged the streets around the Abbey in noisy celebration…and still do…

1106

ST PETER’S FAIR SONG

Piercing the darkness of the narrow streets,

One by one,

Candles glow.

 

Damp cobbles feel the slap of leather feet

Two by two,

People go.

 

Tall shadows dance as the torches pass

Ten by ten

Crowds grow

In city squares..

 

Piercing the darkness of the narrow streets,

One by one,

Candles glow.

 

Damp cobbles feel the slap of leather feet

Two by two,

People go.

 

Tall shadows dance as the torches pass

Ten by ten

Crowds grow

In city squares..

 

St Peter’s Fair is here!

The high time of the year!

St Peter’s Fair is here!

The high time of the year!

 

(Jugglers)

 

Catch the song I throw

High in the sky!

Catch the song I throw

Fly, song, fly!

 

(Musicians)

 

Dance to my fiddle!

Hop to my drum!

Leap to the high flute!

Come, gallants, come!

 

(Fire swallowers)

Fire! Fire!

Watch me drink it!

Fire! Fire!

Watch me sink it!

 

(Mummers)

See the King with crown and scarlet!

See the Lady faint in white!

See the villain slink and snigger!

See the Spring and Winter fight!    

 

St Peter’s Fair is here!

The high time of the year!

St Peter’s Fair is here!

The high time of the year!

 

(Tightrope artists)

Here I am!

Above your head!

See me dance!

On a thread!

 

Here I am!

Above your head!

See me dance!

On a thread!

 

(Food and Drink)                                                                 

Come buy, come buy,

Sizzling sausages! Steaming hot pies!

Come buy! Come buy!

 

Come buy, come buy,

Sizzling sausages! Steaming hot pies!

Come buy! Come buy!

 

 

 

Written on Water: The Monk’s Song

I have posted an earlier version of this before, but here is the finished one – not much changed, as I recall, in its proper place.

For most of the Middle Ages, monastic life of one kind or another flourished here, as the monks provided spiritual and physical comfort to the people of Bath. The hot springs were central to this care, being used by the monks both spiritually, in baptism, and medically, to alleviate pain and soothe suffering.

But, as time flowed on the monasteries fell into ruin both physical and spiritual, as did the monks.. and with their fall, one of the favourite villains of mediaeval literature makes his appearance..

MONKS’ SONG

I am a jolly monk,

And I live in a monastery,

I have a fine belly,

I live a fine life,

And no one is holier than me!

 

I eat the fattest meat

and I drink all the reddest wine

While out in the street

They have nothing to eat

And no-one is holier than me!

 

I sleep in a feather bed

And I sit by a roaring fire

While the children freeze

In the icy breeze

And no-one is holier than me!

 

I am a jolly monk,

And I live in a monastery,

I have a fine belly,

I live a fine life,

And no one is holier than me!

 

 

 

 

I am a jolly monk                                                                                                                             and I live in a monastery                                                                                                            I have a fine belly                                                                                                                               I live a fine life                                                                                                                            and no one is holier than me!

Written on Water: The Coronation of King Edgar

But…over the centuries the waters receded. The springs re-emerged, and out of the sodden wasteland rose another holy place . .this time sacred to a different God… the One God of the Christians..

Because those springs are so close to the River Avon, the border between Wessex and Mercia, Bath was a significant place in the middle ages at which it was important to have a great religious centre…and when the country was unified, how better to dissolve that border by crowning the first King of All England, Edgar, in the  Saxon Abbey in Bath?

And, after the Coronation, King Edgar, so legend has it, was transported up the flowing river in a ceremonial barge to Chester… which brought us back to the water again..

 

CORONATION MUSIC

 

A thousand candles flicker

A thousand voices lift;

The glory of a new beginning

Shines through stone.

 

Water ripples spreading..

The royal vessel slips its moorings,

slides into the current,

Takes the stream.

 

All hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

 

The new king sits triumphant

The new crown on his curls,

Hand raised,

To the crowds who

Throng the shore.

 

All hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

 

The great flotilla, surging

And dipping in his wake,

Rides the river;

Rides the river

To Chester!

 

Written on Water: The Ruin

This is an account of building. decay, ruin, and building again. When the Baths fell into decay and the hot springs were drowned by the rising waters, centuries after the Romans had left, a beautiful Anglo Saxon poem lamented their desolation. That poem inspired this song.

RUIN

Cry the wild water!

Cry the deep drowning!

Cry the sunk spring!

Cry the sacked city!

 

Lost are our voices, raised to the high gods!

Wasted the sanctuary, Wasted the healing streams.

 

Silent is Sulis,

Silent Minerva

 

Silent is Sulis,

Silent Minerva

 

Cry the wild water!

Cry the deep drowning!

Cry the sunk spring!

Cry the sacked city!

 

Cry!

Cry!

Cry!

 

Written on Water: The Roman Songs

The next two songs are both about the Roman Baths. The secondary meaning of Written on Water is that our lives do not disappear without trace, but leave echoes in the time to come which continue to alter the world long after we are dead. The first one, Successa, is a tribute to a little girl her loving parents, who wrote the memorial stone tablet on which this song is based,  must have thought buried for ever.

SUCCESSA PETRONIA

To the spirits of the departed

and Successa Petronia,

who lived 3 years, 4 months, 9 days.

 

To the spirits of the departed

and Successa Petronia,

who lived 3 years, 4 months, 9 days.

 

Vettius Romulus and Victoria Sabina

set this to their dearest daughter.

 

To the spirits of the departed

and Successa Petronia,

who lived 3 years, 4 months, 9 days.

9 days.

 

The second, taken from the Curses tablets thrown into the springs for the attention of Sulis/ Minerva, strikes an altogether different kind of tone.

CURSES SONG

 

Hail Minerva!

Solinus calling!

I give your majesty, glory, divinity,

my bathing tunic and my cloak..

 

Hail Minerva!

Solinus calling!

Make the thief who stole all my things

bring them back now!

 

Hail Minerva!

Solinus calling!

I give your majesty, glory, divinity,

my bathing tunic and my cloak..

 

Hail Minerva!

Solinus calling!

Make the thief who stole all my things

bring them back now!

Or Minerva,

steal from him

all his sleep, and all his health,

Minerva of the hot spring!

 

Hail to thee, Sulis,

O mighty goddess,

I give you six silver coins,

But only, my Sulis, if you get them back from

Senicianus and Saturninus and Anniola,

Who took them from me,

Oh, Sulis of the hot spring!

 

Hail to thee, Sulis,

Mighty Minerva,

Please hear my prayer.

I have lost two gloves, mighty Minerva.

May those that stole them

Lose all their reason,

And both of their eyes.

 

Right all our wrongs, Sulis,

Restore our goods to us,

Punish the wicked!

Hail to thee, Sulis,

Hail to Minerva, Goddess of the hot springs!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written on Water Lyric 2: The Pagan Song

The lyrics for Written on Water are finished now, so I thought I would share them with you. Please don’t send them anywhere; they won’t be performed until June, when a 30 voice children’s choir accompanied by a small orchestra will sing them in the Abbey. The children are young, so the lyrics have to be simple. In the first, introductory lyric, we introduced the idea of the history of Bath as a sacred place – not just the Abbey – beginning with the hot springs; the fusion of fire and water. And the second song celebrates our Iron Age ancestors and their worship of the Water Goddess, eventually Sulis. (Of course, as with all of them, the music makes it.) The simplest form of religion; a child in the night crying for its mother.

PAGAN SONG

Mother!  Mother!  Hear us!  Hear us! Hear us!

Mother! Mother! Hear us! Hear us! Hear us!

O Mother! Mother! Mother! Hear us! Hear us! O Mother!

 

Fire in water, Water in fire!

Hear us as we sing to thee! Hear us as we dance!

Hear us as we sing to thee!

Fire in water, Water in fire!

 

Mother! Mother! Hear us! Hear us! Hear us!

O Mother! Mother! Mother! Hear us! Hear us! O Mother!

 

Bring the sun up when the night dies.

Bring the grass back when the snow melts.

Bring the sun up when the night dies.

Bring us life!

 

Fire in water, Water in fire!

 

Mother! Mother! Hear us! Hear us! Hear us!

O Mother! Mother! Mother! Hear us! Hear us! O Mother!

Mother! Mother! Hear us! Hear us! Hear us!

 

Mother!

Mother!

 

 

 

 

 

Uncle Nick

This poem is in response to a glorious article: A school in Portland, Oregon, has granted approval to a local Satanic Temple’s request to set up an after-school programme for pupils.
Children at Sacramento Elementary School, which educates pupils aged between 5 and 10, will have the opportunity to attend the Satanic club’s inaugural meeting on October 19.
Satanic Temple spokesman Finn Rezz told Oregon Live the club would focus on “on science and rational thinking,” promoting “benevolence and empathy for everybody” – while providing an alternative voice to the Bible-centred “Good News Club”.
“Across the nation, parents are concerned about encroachments by proselytizing evangelicals in their public schools, and are eager to establish the presence of a contrasting voice that helps children to understand that one doesn’t need to submit to superstition in order to be a good person.’ Apart from believing in Satan, that is.

Uncle Nick

Hello children,

Come right in..

There’s no need to be shy.

Here’s  your new buddy, Uncle Nick

He’s here to tell you why

we need a new America

that’s rid of lies and stories

so we can tell it as it is;

just like those English Tories.

 

What is it, Myleen? What is wrong?

You’re scared of how he looks?

Is it his face? I know it’s red..

When weather’s hot he cooks!

 

Is it his hair? I know it’s strange, but..

Oh. You don’t like horns?

Well, listen Myleen, in this club,

We live in our own way..

whatever shape or shade we are..

it’s cool with us, ok?

 

Just because a guy has horns,

it doesn’t mean he’s bad.

Yes, I’m sure it’s what your parents said,

but you go tell your Dad,

That he is just plumb crazy

if he really does believe

in all that Good and Badness stuff.

We’ll teach you to be free!

 

His hands are small, I do agree,

But have you seen his claws?

They’re long and gold and sharp and cruel

They’ll teach you how to deal with life..

Much better than your school.

 

We’re on your side, you little guys,

We’ll see you get your due.

Just come and sit

by Uncle Nick

and he will see you through.