A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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September 2008, vol 4 no 3

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Bamboo Shoot

Church Going

Sunday, and after a late breakfast and the morning papers, I headed west to begin a circuitous journey home.

a gasping crow
on top of a telegraph pole—
the heathland parched

My road took me through the small village of Damerham where a large CHURCH FLOWER FESTIVAL notice was fixed to a tall hedge. Larkin-like, certainly no church connoisseur, I stopped; and passing through the thick, ochre-lichened walls into a sweet-smelling almost cuttable cold, it came again—the elusive sense of being elsewhere. The ambience was decidedly post-Sunday lunch—the church all but empty. One other visitor, booklet in hand and with a seeming interest in ceilings, quickly disappeared; while two elderly ladies—strangely still wearing woollen cardigans and tweed skirts—hardly seemed there at all in any material sense.

Only a few days earlier there would have been humming preparations as summer flowers were gathered and joyously massed into every available embrasure, hung in baskets, and arranged on and around every appropriate surface. There would have been the excitements and quiet pleasures of making one's own personal statement; and over cups of tea or coffee and skirmishes for the bourbon biscuits there would have been the small pecking-order reproofs and suggested aesthetic alterations. But now, two elderly ladies, who I took to be locals—willing hands or elected organisers, were simply passing time, vaguely touching a pew here or a vase there as they moved about the church; eking out the thin verbal subsistence of world opinion with village gossip. Their whispers seemed to live out their own brief lives—hanging in the air, crisp as winter breath, before dying away to vanish into the stonework. There was a brief darkening of my vision—some small flux of blood perhaps to eye or brain that I could easily put down to tiredness; but with it came a change of mood, and I noticed suddenly that the flowers were too sweetly scented, their petals already starting to scatter into pools of shabby light. Another year. Another flower festival.

After weary miles, in an old Norman church, the cool of white interior walls; two ghost-like ladies—peace, and scent of flowers discuss a prostate.

Some years later, I read of Wiltshire's being a 'top snowdrop county', that in February, Damerham churchyard harbours a sea of snowdrops, and that snowdrops are not infrequently found near sites of religious buildings--a Catholic custom being their use in the celebration of Candlemas. But as I wandered then out onto the gravel paths and rough grass between the pitching and tossing gravestones, I was wondering what words passed for 'prostate problems' in the old days--what relevant herbs might still be seeding out amongst the ancient dead. I looked down and laughed--there were plenty of dandelions. I looked up, and saw the sun.

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