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Washed in Thomas Becket's blood

Earl Livings |  05 February 2017


Selected poems


A marvel


During the tolling hour

I lie awake listening

To my timid breath,

To the blood echoing

In my pillowed ear,

Thinking of the oxygen

And digested fuels

Carried to all parts

Of my body, keeping

It ticking over, fine-tuned

To the poise and rhythm

Of dark following light,

Of silence following words,

Of touch following laughter,

The night glazed with moonlight

And a torrent of stars


And how a clogging highway

In the blood, a wrong turn

Of a message to the heart,

A bug in the brain's wiring,

Could rupture in an instant

The wonder of this body

Of senses seizing chunks

From the world in some hope

Of deep clarity one day,

This mind straining

To reflect on how all this

Can strike in an instant,

As the chest fills again

And night hums away.




Class photo


After our frost-breath singing

Of 'God Save the Queen' before the flag,

The busy nun marches us two by two

To the splintered bench seats

In the open wind-shear shelter.

I pull my school cap tighter.


With second-hand clippers and scissors,

My father had trimmed one side of my head

Then the other, trying to even up

The style, until it was easier to shave

The head to a shining stubble.


The nun shepherds everyone,

Shortest to tallest, row by row,

Onto the seats, claps for attention,

Spots me in the middle: 'Take off that cap!'

Has to say it twice, and I squirm, obey.


The class, the nun, the photographer

Stare, snigger or guffaw behind hands,

All but my best friend beside me,

Dressed in his brother's uniform.

He punches my arm, whispers:

'You look like a light bulb

With glasses.' We chuckle until

The nun claps again and the photographer

Snaps the moment, twice for good luck.

Clutching the cap to my head, I lurch

Through bully jostling to the classroom,

Ready with quick hands for questions.




The dark entrance

He has ... shamed my realm; the grief goes to my heart,

and no-one has avenged me! – Henry II, Christmas Day, 1170


Narrow, pointed arch entrance,

Low vaulted ceiling,

Stone and wood panelling —

Here four murderers walked

Over eight hundred years ago

To rid their king of a meddlesome priest.


Amidst singing and candlelight

At Vespers, Thomas Becket stood

At the Cathedral altar, knowing

The armoured knights were coming:

Here I am, not a traitor of the King,

but a priest. Why do you seek me?


After their clamouring and brandishing

Of hatchets and axe, he knew his fate,

Bent his head in submission —

The first blow took off the scalp,

Then another head blow rocked him.

He steadied himself, voice straining

Against shock and agony:

For the name of Jesus and the good

Of the Church, I am ready

To embrace death.

A sword thrust through his head,

Steel shattering on the altar stone.

His brains scattered by a cleric

Who had came with the barons:

He won't get up again.


Except in the miracles that flowed.

A cripple washed with blood

Her husband wiped on his clothes

At the scene, cured. Over 700 more

Recorded in the first ten years alone,

Hundreds of thousands worshipping him,

The king himself accepting a public flogging

By 80 monks, then prayed at the tomb,

One of many penances.


The passageway is dark in light

And in mind, though if my companion,

Learnéd in Church and Spirit,

Had not told me its history

Would I have felt its malevolence?

What did I feel, a coldness, a spite,

A rage, I didn't bring in with me?


We wander out into sunshine,

Study the Crown, the East End section

Of the Cathedral, Becket's head

Used as a foundation offering.


Even now do murderers take

Their long silvered walks

Along my own dark entrances?

Will I have time to pray?

What miracles can we expect?


Earl LivingsEarl Livings has published poetry and fiction in Australia and also Britain, Canada, the USA, and Germany. He has a PhD in Creative Writing and taught professional writing and editing for 17 years. His writing focuses on nature, mythology and the sacred and he is currently working on a Dark Ages novel and his next poetry collection.



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Submitted comments

Congratulations, Earl, on this fine poetry. Especially "The dark entrance", entrancing. Writing about nature, mythology and the sacred - well done.

Pam 06 February 2017

Your poem encapsulates the precise historical moment and precedent for many a 'murder in the cathedral'. Only last night I was entrusted to turn out the lights and shut the door on a vast silence of Gothic gloom. Thomas a Becket's callous murder, like Romero's, does indeed shriek out to us over aeons of time through the drumbeat of your haunting eloquence.

Michael Furtado 07 February 2017

True poetry, unlike some poorly written prose that passes as poetry these unenlightened days! I did not know that Thomas a Becket's murder by his estranged friend, Henry II, was followed by miraculous cures nor that the King had realised his culpability in submitting himself to corporal punishment. I did, however, feel the malevolence when I first stood at the scene of the murder in Canterbury Cathedral. Also loved the image of a young lad embarrassed by his father's amateurish haircutting skills preserved forever in the class photograph.

john frawley 07 February 2017

Earl three touching reflective poems, capturing essences of living ....and dying. More please. Thanks for sharing your gift .

Celia 07 February 2017

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