Westminster Abbey

I try to imagine this place
empty, mid-day
lampless
with just sunlight filtering through
the stained glass
and the dry bones
dust-motes of all the Tudor kings and queens
laureates, rectors, prime ministers
drifting slowly between the grand vaults
votives extinguished on the altar
the suggestion of petitions in the faint smell of smoke.
Here Blake was said to sit
and talk with ghosts.
I am not impressed with hauntings
but I can imagine the conversation
rivals and colleagues and sisters
sighing
the full stop of death
a surprise to one and all
the nobodies and the royals
mis-remembered
or plain forgotten.
How the souls would lonely float
into the Lady Chapel
(temple to human achievement
glory beyond words
archways of light and eggshell,
white as bone)
rustle there awhile
shake silent heads
and whisper
Is this all there is?
the words, soundless
blown from their lips
like frosty mist over the Thames.

The stone walls are cold
and the stone floors are cold
and the stone slabs over the moldering corpses
are heavy and cold and final.

This is not a church
but a tomb
temple to mortality.
This is not a church
but a laboratory.
Here the bones of Darwin, Hawking
test cold theories
one last experiment
seen through to the end.
If their hypotheses prove
a soul-less death
no conclusion can be reported
no victory for the correct.
This is all there is
but what was it for?

But from another plaque
C.S. Lewis beams a brighter theory.
These bones are empty shells
cicada casings
left behind.
Somewhere the insect sings
higher up
further in
hidden in the branches of a green tree.
Wilberforce won’t mind
if we walk over his grave.
His life was just rehearsal
one small candle
grace.

The great and the greedy
mingle here
the faithful and the feckless
the bawdy and the brave
and outside the streets are thronged
with stories of ten thousand travelers
sinners, saints
who will line up
unwitting (cameras notwithstanding)
cross the threshold
crumble into dust.

The bells peal in a clocktower nearby
counting up? or counting down?
The bell is made of bone
the windows paned by bone
the stones stacked by bone
and ash
dust to dust.

Still, light
filters in
through the many colored glass
through the dust motes, drifting
over the organ keys
where Handel hangs faint in the air
and souls now silent
(are they?)
once sang Hallelujah.

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