Poem from 1999 by Todd Swift
Sometimes I think that being a Protestant
is very dull. Rather like working
as a librarian, at Hull. Or not at all
the same, instead something flatter.
I wasn’t born Catholic, simple as that,
no fault of my mater, or my pater,
though they both tried hard, I’m sure
to make me Christian in their bed
(when making babies without underwear),
and did not wish me at my birth to be
the representative of only half Christ’s
community, on Earth, or less even;
I’ve been this way, United Church, then
Anglican, since I could count angels
in the stain, the glass hung up religiously,
could hardly imagine becoming RC,
yet tempted I remain, by the imagery
and exotic ways of doing things (African,
almost, or Chinese); I don’t dislike Mary,
think she’s very lovely, like the Pope -
but here I quickly get out of my depth -
it’s a dizzying world of Saints and beads,
parts of the Bible I have never read,
and a simply other-shaped kind of hope.
My people - if that’s who they are -
have done terrible things and been stupid -
some of theirs, I’ve heard, mistaken too -
all groping for a history in a world terribly
out of step with any basic common good.
In Sunday School I was made to draw whales
and Joshua, and walls falling, and asses
bearing Joseph and his wife on to that famous
manger. Meanwhile, inside the real place,
where adults sat dutiful and bored, anger
mingled with information about Dead scrolls
and long-winded journeys through Palestine
in bussess; the dust whipped up by those tours
seemed to whirl, then settle, in the pews.
Not words, nor deeds, or even well-baked goods
brought me inner satisfaction, although book sales
held some amazing bargains: James Bonds
for less than a comic; the Ladies hoarded the best
for themselves, so when the doors opened at Nine,
already the valuable stuff was gone, the poor
wandering though left-over left-overs in stalls.
And so it went. Sharing and the Samaritan, ditched,
and all the promises meant to be kept, abbreviated
by suburban standards and the Reformation.
The streets the houses of these Christians stood on
were wide, with lawns, and Dutch Elms that spread
until, one year (in ’76) they all got sick, failed
then were cut down by contractors from the city,
until the avenues were stumped and empty overhead.
More science than allegory, this true fact
still signals a radiating mood about my childhood:
it died where it stood, for all the stone buildings standing tall.