Maxine Beneba Clarke
Liber Pauperum

on the western façade

     the archangel michael

grand wings aloft,

was weighing souls


and the serpent hissed down

     at eve, regal

and adam


as thomas the apostle

put a hand

                to his brow


and ash wind dusted

     the upturned faces

as bystanders wide-eyed

the hellfire blaze


the cathedral spire

      skeleton, blackened

a falling splendour

of gothic past days


and smoulder plumed

     like anger, woken:

like a strength immortal

                   emerged from the tomb


and oh, the screams of the people


     and praying


and the spectacle smarted

     the eyes of the world


oh, notre dame

oh, liber pauperum:

the carved poor people’s book

of illiterate stone


and the smoke, it rose spiral

like sacrament incense:

          a purging,

like the faithful,

     ascending above


eight short days

     before easter sunday

when the skies of paris,

ochre-scarlet, lit up


but perhaps the house burned

like no second coming;

         like cult of reason,

not latin rite


like falling empire

     and the sins of the clergy

and the power of the people



révolution française

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 20, 2019 as "Liber Pauperum".

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Maxine Beneba Clarke is the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil. She is a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.

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