The Stripping of the Altars

by | July 16, 2022


They from London came and armed with pages:

scrolls proclaiming you a wolf in wool.

Father, it seems you have misled us.

We went picking fruit and ploughing, strapping

boots to furrow sunrise after sunrise into penance.

But you did nothing sacred with the tithe.

All the sundry charms you hallowed,


said would help to intercede with dead;

these were little more than hollow

ends of straw and string,

lying like limp nooses round our necks.

Meaningless, meaningless, they said.

Not even unholy.

But some of us began to think


what if they were, in fact, some kind of curse?

Father, I wasn’t sure.

So long you’d helped me after all.

I would confess to you and you to me would say

we could make my decrepit conscience clean,

if just I stayed and helped with that and this,

brought you some rekels, milk, and myrrh.


You see, I minded not you touched my coin,

for how wonderful your whispers were,

those secret, special absolutions.

Yes, a punnet of my fruit was nothing to hear

you say that sin itself, sin

itself, sin

is just a kind of love, my dear.


Now, the chapel stripped, I’m strapped for even sin.

Forgive me, Father, if you can.

You know I always found it hard

to tell apart

the exorcism from the conjuring.

So please be straight.

What does this dance?


This one you do

to soulless hymns of wind,

and fragments of a moon

cut up by branches, coloured blue,

like stained-glass,

or like a halo with fishing-nets shot-through,

and bound and downward towed.


Oh, my uncanny angel,

horned by poplar trees,

naked, still,

but slowly swaying,

do you really levitate by will

amongst the soothing dim

of softly shining leaves? ∎


Words by Alfred Taylor. Art by Betsy McGrath.