By Sean O’Neill.

So heed me now, though all my quondam whimpers rise

From darknesses and little deaths You did despise,

Or seemed to. Your tremendous volte-face preyed each year

Upon my gullibility to bend Your ear

And racked this ruined soul with frames of phantom guilt.

Your accidental turning broke the barns I built

To store unrealised the mildewed fruit I bore.

I listened and ran bleating to Your closing door.

But when you turned I never saw your fabled smile

But wept upon Your thorny brow, to lose my guile

Where rivulets of blood do still obscure Your eyes

And gather where my hopes and weathered dreaming dies.

But here I lie, and ever did I, catlike, do.

For once, I now remember, where the olives grew

With mists between the small hills and dawn on the felled

Ancient castellations of the Marches, You held

My eyes and opened them on glimpses of Your face.

And have You changed? Is this now why there is no trace?

But now I think I mind a moonlit path I walked

Where all the trees were dancing with your voice and talked

Between themselves and lifted their long-fingered praise.

And You stopped me like a traveller with your gaze

And bade me lift this old, old burden from my back.

You have not changed. But surely I must learn my lack.

Then other places where Your love drew near, precious

And strong , or weeping and long, like milestones, conscious

Of me, spread along these dusts. I pine in my sleep,

Now. Now Your mercies crowd upon me from some deep

And dead forgotten cavern of my wayward heart.

I am the lost sheep. But no sooner do we start

Back on the pasture than I stray among the rocks

Or bandy words with here a wolf or there a fox.

Brand my hide with Your blood-red love, sacred shepherd.

Teach me the strong timbre of your speech that, once heard,

Will ever be obeyed; and lead me, lead me now

To grasses greener, sweeter than the heart knows how.

 

This poem first appeared in First Things, June/July 2004. Poem and image © Sean O’Neill, used with permission from the author.