Poem in Which I Try to Raise a Photograph from its Bed

It cannot remember how he clocked me
in the capacity-packed amphitheatre,
…..but I can:
my lower vertebrae were broken
…..like bread
……….at birth
…..so by the time I am nine — and I am
here — you can put me down
as ‘sick’
…..according to first-century
Greco-Roman categorisation:
…..that Spina bifida gait,
orthopaedic shoes,…..crutches,
…..a PV shunt scar…..under all my blonde.
I’ve been fed to front of the queue
…..at a few meetings, but this
is bigger, like suddenly reading
…..the Braille of death
engraved into the inside metal
…..of a gladatorial helmet.
The man’s suit is blue-grey
…..as moral clout herself.
…..He holds the microphone
as close to his chin
…..as his chest,…..surfaces
of vice …..and workbench,
…..my head, my whole personhood
……….held between them.
This boy, me — dwarfing him
…..as if about to receive
……….an award not a verdict —
knows he needs healing
…..and wears those colours;
……….they will flap
……………in his face for years yet.
If you could see the front of me
…..my eyes would be tightly closed.
The boy leans all of his faith
…..against the crutches
……….to tether his wilder inclinations
until such a time as their metal
…..knows when…..to let him go
……….onto his heels, ……….his healing.

The spill of stage lights
…..licks the vignette’s skin
like pipetted …..liquid,
……….a serpent coiled round
……………lady wisdom.
Some believers, the boy will learn,
……….wrangle venomous snakes
every Sunday. …..Whether
in colourful crowds of thousands
or pews of coughing,
……….amen-throwing tens,
we all seek the same signs
and wonders, when ‘God’
…..might simply be
the commemoration of expectation,
……….the photo — part
of a newspaper cutting my mother framed
…..probably in some attic now, suffering
……….an invisibility
……….like hell — enough
that both prayer and prayed-for know
power is left imperfect in her strength.

Mark Burnhope

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