Friday, 17 September 2010

In case you missed it...

...the Pope is visiting Britain right now. As a (lapsed) Catholic is was nice to see him being we well received particularly when there was a fear that he would be largely met with indifference. With regards to the politics of his "message" I'll leave that to others who are more qualified.

Anywho I was reading a poem to an audience on the eve of his visit and it seemed apposite to read the one you will find below. When I wrote it ithe poem was really an exercise (suggested by a poetry workshop leader) in bringing together two sensory memories from my childhood - a stolen sip of altar wine - waking up after wetting the bed. It became an exorcism, if that's not too strong a word, as all poems do that are anchored in truth.

As I read it I remembered a comment from an audience member from an earlier reading. He (very politely)accused me of having a go at the Catholic Church. I told him it was a truthful experience and the poem states the facts without judgement. The judgement was his.

Here's the poem...

Drinking Jesus’ Blood

Sister Mary tears me from my dream,
mouth pursed white like the lip of a drawstring bag.
Again, urine had seeped from my Judas bladder.
Pyjamas in deep, wet, cotton folds burn from belly to knee.

Sister Mary, a window-less room and a bath of ice water.
The drum in my ear shivers at the machine gun rattle of my teeth.
Naked, I hide my hairless sex behind bone-thin hands.
‘Get your hands away, you dirty little pervert.’
My mouth opens, my hands move from sin, then back.

Cold water bites flesh. Skin and muscle shrink to a tight sheath.
Her black sleeves rolled up, forearms white as a frosted soul.
She tries to find suds in iced carbolic. I bite on the questions:
will my teeth chip or break from clattering,
how much will the tooth fairy give me if they are in crumbs?
Rubbed with stiff towel till skin heats, blue to pink.

In the Sacristy with Jim Docherty, the other Altar Boy,
itch of shame replaces the nip of urine.
‘Wet The Bed,’ he chants.
‘Shut it, Big Nose,’ I bruise his arm - and don white.
‘Lads,’ says Father Kieran, tousles our brylcreemed heads

and leaves us with a chalice full of communion wine.
The vessel grows until it shrinks the room,
I lean forward to touch it.
Jim’s eyebrows bounce off his hairline, ‘Bet you wouldn’t.’
I grip the stem in answer to his hushed taunt.

Heart charging at my ribcage I moisten lips, and pour.
Teeth and tongue fur sour before I force open my throat.
A blazing bolus flares a trail to my stomach.
Jim, slack mouthed with fear and awe,
‘Oh-oh, that’s a sin. You’ve just drank Jesus’ blood.’

‘Aye, and it tastes like piss!’


  1. So much of life is a disappointment, eh?

  2. That's a powerful poem, Michael. I like the completeness at the end (if I can put it that way).

  3. Sure is Linda. Just as well there's some good stuff going on as well.

    Rosemary, glad you "got it". I read it at a reading the other night and a friend reported that afterwards an elderly lady turned to her husband and said "well, that was in bad taste."