Totem animals, blade-worked creatures
stare cold distances, a long
shadow to the water's edge.
Before he was named, Christ
already in waves, shadows,
the wind's pulse through cedars.
Makeshift deities, a deadweight communion
of arteries opened to the Virgin or the Beast., on the altar
a sacrifice that we would live forever.
Dust in the mouth, dust of Ephesus, the bones time
ground, the gates, the capitals
in punishing heat.
Beyond pine shade, all
treasuries, sects, rituals,
the harbour silted over.
A handhold of rope threaded the iron eyelets, winding upwards with the narrow stairs.
Sheila climbed ahead, remarking on the ability of stone to /retain cold, even now in the heat of the day. At the neat, Norman archway, she produced a comically large key, its appearance not unlike a wire coat hanger twisted round on itself a number of times, its weight a bottle of beer.
The room, three paces by four, was walled with documents, parish records dating from the mid thirteenth century right up to the service last Sunday. In the wall opposite, a small, leaded pane was painted with the trees and blue sky of Norfolk summer.
Sheila opened a large floor chest, which she thought was late eighteenth century; each hinge was the length of my forearm. She handed me a book, its creamy cover holed partly, as if burnt. “Sheepskin”, Sheila offered, “or maybe goat”. I thumbed through the register – soldiers, farmhands, widows – everyone’s life set out in neat copperplate, a record of the parish, one November day, 1716. It was raining that day: On one page, rain stains clearly dappled the ink. Whoever was in charge must have been out and about the town.
Sheila made a cup of tea.
A dehumidifier chugged quietly in the corner. Sheila peered into the drip well. “That’s odd”, she mused, without any further explanation.
She waved casually in the direction of a small glass cabinet, and a Latin document recording the permissions for the ‘new’ tower, c 1450, a dull red wax seal revealing the impress of the Abbott of St Albans. Beneath the cabinet, more books and loosely bound folios.
“This is one of my favourites, but not so very old, really”, she said, drawing me over to another cabinet in the corner, and a poster there printed mainly in bright red, advertising Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The call to teas and cricket was in perfect condition.
I left Sheila sitting at a small table, making notes, wishing me goodbye without looking up, and made my way back down the twisting stairs.
At the end of the North aisle, four tourists stood, looking up at a massive brass chandelier. It looked dangerous to stand beneath, suspended daintily ten metres from the hammer-beam ceiling. Imagine a long piece of string, and hanging from it a Fiat Quattrocento, but in brass, sprigged with candles, with the year ‘1712’ stamped on the chassis.
As the tourists opened the oak door to leave, the June sun met the deep, cool dark and disappeared.