Wednesday 16 April, 1941
‘5am: Report very bad night, everyone behaved splendidly’
This building, dressed in a collar of smoke,
at whose feet only fog and ash flower,
whose bricked heart hides Wellington’s monument,
prepared for the inevitable blasts.
Unsleeping structure, lit by the Thames’ glow,
building of contradiction, vulnerable,
and yet, still, imposing in its stature,
patrolled by volunteers who douse the fires.
‘2.30am: Bomb through North Transept. Blast terrific.’
The North Transept only whispers of scars:
like the barely-visible giveaway
of a recapitated statue’s shine
by the shrine, once upturned, now candle-bathed.
Or the old High Altar, blown apart
by a quarter-tonne bomb dropped through the roof;
built up again to be a remembrance
of Commonwealth members who died in war.
‘1.52am: Cathedral roofs pelted with incendiary bombs’
Members of the Watch unite in resolve
to protect you from the flames at all costs,
knowing how to navigate by dark each inch.
At the nave’s west end, a tile remembers them.
You, who intone grand hymns of survival,
who holler out chords of determination,
under your breath, you whisper other tales:
the legacy of loss, of grief’s debris.
When morning came, the light overpowered the darkness
Sunken into this Cathedral’s fabric,
a tile bows in its commemoration
of determination and defiance,
but who now can sing humanity’s song?
Does rubble speak the same language as hope?
Where do shadows hide when no light is cast?
Shall we salvage this too from our history –
the toll of uncertainty’s sleeplessness?
Can we find un-silent sanctuary?
My childhood home, a memory made of longing:
if it stood still through time, maybe I could too.
Who can measure fear’s wingspan, its claw’s reach?
When morning comes, may my structures rebuild,
may the light overpower the darkness,
may my landscape be rewritten in bold.
Bravery and protection matter more than ever before.
Firebomb turns to fireweed, wounds are salvaged
from wounds, safe becomes our treasured mantra,
and this city surrounds itself with shells
of memories passed down, of photographs.
Hope finds breath between sirens.
The fireweed outside has long-since blossomed
to buildings that reflect a watchful sun
and we summon the aftermath’s silence
through this structure of endless echoing.
When morning comes, I’ll wear a dome of hope, intact.
(A Historic England / Poetry Society commission for the project ‘Where Light Falls’.)