Poem

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

atheistic,

     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 Apr 20, 2019 as "Liber Pauperum". Subscribe here.

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