Saturday morning. I rehearse
the Sunday hymns, fortissimo,
in the cool twilight of the church,
adding new stops at every verse.
Someone creaks the west door. I know.
I am the object of his search,
gazed at, as though from far away;
he must be thirty if a day.
I turn my seventeen-year-old
profile a trifle heavenwards,
and hastily reduce the sound,
accommodating to his bold
descant on David’s harp. The Lord’s
house might as well be Circe’s ground.
‘With thee all night I mean to stay
and wrestle till the break of day.’
—’With thee all night.’ So Wesley wrote,
though not with secular intent.
What flourishes that tune will bear!
My tenor wreathes it, note by note,
in rich Handelian ornament.
Faint burnt-out incense on the air
off ends his Presbyterian nose.
He sneezes, stares across the rows
of empty pews between us; still
singing, walks to the organ; stands
beside me; puts his arms around
my waist and squeezes me until
I gasp, then gently lifts my hands
in his, and kisses me. He’s sound
of wind. His kiss is long. We share
at last a common need for air.
‘Give me one kiss, my bonnie lass!’
Vain as a cat, I frown and toss
my head. He watches Brisbane’s hot
sunshine, strained through Victorian glass,
lacquer a Station of the Cross.
He scowls and thunders: ‘Thou shalt not
make any graven images.’
But as he bends his head to kiss
the image of his hope, the door
moves with its useful warning creak.
He steps aside. I start to play.
He fills his lungs, and sings once more:
‘Speak to me now, in mercy speak. ‘
A death-pale curate come to pray
kneels and is forced to find his Lord
through a loud F sharp major chord.
Where’s that bright man who loved me when
there was not much to love? He died
soon after. The undying flow
of music bears him close again,
handsome and young, while I am tried
in time‘s harsh fires. Dear man, I know
your worth, being now less ignorant of
the nature and the names of love.
Gwen Harwood (1920 – 1995) was an Australian poet and librettist.