This poem won the first prize of £2,500 in the Cookham Festival Stanley Spencer Competition 2017. The longlisted poems are published in Stanley Spencer Poems: An Anthology, edited by Jane Draycott, Carolyn Leder, Peter Robinson (Two Rivers Press, 2017)
The Heaven That Runs Through Everything
Here’s to the small everyday miracles –
Mrs Baggett with her knitting and pearls,
the lovely daughters of Jerusalem
in their gardens of lilies, laburnum,
gospels and gossip at the regatta,
Sarah Tubb and her heavenly visitor,
courting and baptism along the Thames,
a dustman leaping into his wife’s arms.
Here’s to tulip, rock rose, gypsophila
flowering together, to vases of prayer,
Saint Francis in slippers and dressing gown
up on the roof with hens to catch the sun,
chores doing themselves down in the kitchen
at a wedding where water’s turned to wine,
everything married to everything else –
yearning to show itself as happiness,
as Love. Neighbours who rejoice with tin cans
and cabbage leaves, the ripe summer commons,
skies which open over bulrush, goose-run,
the fresh light making everything new-born,
shot through with flame, each shrub a burning bush
by the tow path. All detail the flourish
of nature to show itself exactly –
not ‘bird’ but swan, cockerel, grebe, quail, turkey.
Blessings on Ricket’s Farm, Rowborough, Pound Field,
the very word ‘Eden’ changed, now this world
is all we need to know of paradise.
Consider the gardens at Cookham Rise
where Adam’s walking backwards to a tree
laden with unpicked apples – the first day
and the last become one, as if heaven was
wanting to reveal its eternal Yes –
earthly desire become beatitude,
everything known to be equally god.
Suffering a page to be folded over,
tenderness up sleeves in the tents of war,
balm poured from seraphs in the guise of men.
Nothing that is not transfiguration –
the dying girl next door raised up, restored
to life, then the quickening of a horde
of spirits, hungry for what death waylaid –
the lost embrace, words not said, love not made.
Here’s to grief unlearnt, grateful breath redrawn,
the rapture of rolling away the stone.
And let’s not forget the man most at home
in sunlight, newly arrived in Cookham,
who walks with disciples up Cockmarsh Hill,
everyone in the crowd a plump angel.