Some slight redemption

Issue SixIssue Six PoetryPoetry

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by Jenny Blackford

Coventry Cathedral had been bombed,
I knew, during the last great conflagration
of the world,
had lost some of its roof
one night of far too many deaths –
though nothing to the horror
our own side rained,
flaming, down onto Dresden.

I had some vague idea
the church had been rebuilt –
another war memorial.

Not even close.

High-windowed walls
stand tall around
paved empty sacred space
big as a playing field,
wide open to the sky.
Stumps of once-proud columns
rise lower than my knees.
Some of the stone walls
still hold window lead,
maybe a little fractured glass
but not a hint of roof.
The fabric of the building
tattered stone and iron lace;
the light behind it blinding blue,
or dumping summer rain.

In not-so-distant Oxford
each church, it seemed,
held its small monument to martyrs
of the Reformation. Always
Catholics and Protestants alike,
never just one side.
Never a hint which One True Church
might have been right, the plaques
so careful in their shame
and generosity.

Each time I saw a sign,
I tried to hide the tears
that stabbed my lids.

I couldn’t hold them back
in Coventry. The monument
is not to war
nor even peace
but to forgiveness.

A modest painted board
where the altar must have massed
before the bombs
asks over and over
Father forgive

even the German aircrews

those who sent them

and they themselves,
for their own part.

That would have been enough
to burst the floodgates.
But deeper
in the open body of the ruin
another sign backs practical love
everywhere –
food and wells and
medicine for all;

and, most unbearable, finds
some slight redemption
in the re-creation, stone
by fire-bombed-stone,
of Dresden’s own
high-domed cathedral.

Some slight redemption’ was shortlisted for the 2015 ACU Prize for Poetry. It was published in the competition anthology and reprinted in Jenny’s 2017 collection The Loyalty of Chickens (Pitt Street Poetry, 2017).