Spiritualist Church

by Liz Berry

I’ve never spoken to anyone of this –
the Spiritualist church, its squat brick body,
the mossy wall where snails congregate
in worshipful hundreds on wet dusks.
Every day that first winter,
the winter I thought would bury us both,
I walked past that church in sallow light
carrying my son at my chest,
my bones luminous with tiredness.
I’d stand at the gates and read
the inscription on the sign
                Light   Nature   Truth
drawing it into my mouth like anaesthetic
until I believed it was a message for me
to ascend like a dove through the red roofs
or sow myself into the sod.
                            When the snow fell
I thought it was snowing inside my body,
milk turning to ice in my breasts,
snow piling sullen in the crib
of my pelvis. The air burnt my lungs
and I was back on a trolley in the mint room,
frozen from the waist down,
certain he was dying, that I was letting him
die and they were cutting me open –
                           When the sky was dolorous
with sleet, I stood at the gates and dreamt
of begging them to take us in,
to lift my baby from my arms
and lay me down in a room of shadows
so I could shut my eyes at last and the hush
would cover me like a burial sheet
and someone gentle would rest their palms on me,
touch me with a light so staggering
I’d be opened up, my soul rising
from the X-ray of my skeleton
like a white-veined moth, my body below
hollow as an instrument, humming
with voices: women in darkness,
women with babies, down on their knees
in smothering houses, standing
on bridges, coats loosened to wings,
all of them uttering, murmuring at once: I see you.
Now understand, that love can take this shape –
a dove plummeting through white-sleeved night,
that this is a healing, a laying on of hands.