The Leper Squint
St Thomas’ Launceston
Down where the Tamar meets the Kensey
Where a stone bridge spans the stream,
Like starving fish, in feeding frenzy
Gather a shoal of the unclean.
And that unrealized congregation,
Neither quite dead, nor quite unborn
Crouches, a phantom population
Buzzing, like bees in queenless swarm.
Consider the blemished faithful, brothers,
Leave them stale bread and damaged fruits,
Wade ankle deep and wipe each other
Free of contagion from their boots.
Meet their misfortune with indifference,
God gives and takes with even hand,
Run from the heresies of difference,
Shun what you do not understand.
Stamp them like post, return to sender,
Keep them at bay with book and bell,
Make them conform, they must surrender
What they once were, and never tell.
Give them a begging bowl and offer
Just enough freedom to plead for alms,
Don’t get too close, for fear you’ll suffer
Contamination in their arms.
For this is not the holy water
Where Jordan’s flood meets Galilee
And all our good resolves may falter
Before the river meets the sea.
St Leonard’s lazar house, example
Of works of charity benign.
Now from each giver take a sample,
Ten sparks are human, one divine.
Though the unclean, always among us
Are objects of pity and suspicion,
Thanks to the crumbs which fate has flung us
We are not yet in their condition.
And as, at St Thomas Church, outsiders
Grasp at grace, the sermons hint
No space more distant, no chasm wider
Than that through which the lepers squint
© Karen Hayes 2020
Enjoyed this poem from A Sense of Tiptoe and other articles of faith? Why not order the full collection from this page?
ISBN 9781907320934, 73 pages, £8, $16