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10. Featuring: Ursula Hurley

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Cathedral notes


So I get on the train
Bleecker drugstore dragonflies in my hair
pot pourri passion on my cheeks
heart glowing on my sleeve
(Your cardigan, moth-holed, and $125 limited
edition Levis).

Can’t account for this
gnawing dread, insidious
fear of failing. I feel them
sit in judgement upon me.

Thinking about rain-kinked
dogs and spectral budgies on
the line. Browning May
blossom sinks from track-side trees.

In the real world railings are
rusting and half-term kids
swap ring-tones. Back here
I consider the cathedral.

Reluctant. Steps take me up here.
Delaying tactics. Duck into
HMV and moan about the
price of Disco Kandi. Remonstrate.
No materialism today please.

Tempted by Matta’s and
tamarind paste.

Pigeons part like autumn leaves
before my feet. Step over boxes
of iceberg lettuce stranded in
the middle of the street.

Call out to Alan
looking in the window
of News from Nowhere.
‘See that book?’
‘I get slagged off in it.’

Onward past lingering students,
cigarettes, gum and mobile phones.

Shops give way to Georgian
fanlights, buddleia rooted in
gutters and gratings.

Curse this coat and cardigan
as the rain clears and
heat rises from the cobbles.

Chandeliers silhouetted in upstairs rooms.

Then, looming behind
a lock-up garage, the massive
tower. More solid that reality.


The wind is cold and strong,
the silence strident in this
high, lonely place.

In St James’s Cemetery
knotweed infests the graves.
A film lies unravelled in the
tussocked grass.

Wondering what might
have been on it, milky
celluloid beyond redemption,

letting the wind cool my body.
Inside, past the calls for donations
and fairtrade displays, the space

is sterile. Floodlit. Workmen
drop slabs that echo like thunder.
The stained glass crazy, kaleidoscopic,

whites out as you turn
towards the sun, over-exposed
like Jonny’s picture of ground

zero. A headache threatens. Tea
and food call. I keep to the
shadows, afraid lest my pagan

soul be exposed for all to
see. Unworthy to enter the
Chapel of the Holy Spirit. Flinch as

the brass bell rings out clear and
pure, the sound immortal. People
stare at me with my notebook.

Scribbling. Realising I can’t
read my own writing. Virtue
 is good and vice bad.

See, that’s chastity. The salamander
is the only creature that can
live through fire – to be

chaste in life you have to
withstand fire. Turn thoughts away
look unwillingly at the altar. Feel

my stomach drop. Crushed
by the enormity of the space
above. Want to flee

to the sanctuary of the open
sky. Rain and birds. One more
echoing thud resonates

through ribcage and
vault. Time to leave. Hoping
that this space will

germinate words, will root
and grow fat now it’s
inside me.


Between Aughton Park and Maghull
I read the fields,
fading blond in summer’s final shining stand - except
today there is only soft grey drizzle.

Long-legged silhouettes spell horses
bleeding into the grass that bore them.
Leaves breathe the moisture,
their burgeoning sustained a few more heady weeks
until the frost renders them hieroglyphs.

We pass a field already harvested,
the dark soil broken into chocolate-splintered chunks

My mouth waters at the thought of its soft yielding
touch, the smell of its fruitful decay released
as my weight intrudes upon its
fallow repose.

The train gains speed, fine flecks of rain elongate, dash
the windows with tiny opaque prisms.

Vulgar colours run through the meadows.
A rabble of ragwort and fireweed blazes
over industrial ruins.

And there is our church.

Dark and hungry by the silver waters, its blackened rafters
still gaunt against a lowering sky.



With crumbling roof and smashed windows, its emaciated form fed our imaginations, gave us succour.

My god, my god, why have you forsaken us?

In our pain we turned to this starving carcass,
as spurned and neglected as we felt.

And oh! the sweetness of our yearning,
dreaming, desperate
for anything
worthy of our

God, in your absence we made our own graven images, blasphemous idols lovingly crafted with our flesh and our anguish.

The vision scalds me still. Our church, windows lit with scarlet flames, unconsumed by holy fire. Entering the chest cavity, I knew the building breathed, heard it sigh, felt the warmth,
smelled the sharp-sweet incense of its breath. All was dark and golden.

My idol, where were you?

You did not give yourself away.
You moved when I did, kept the rhythm of my breath.

I walked towards the altar, wrapped in the echo of my footfalls.
An image of white down filled my head.
I had to touch it.

And as my heathen hand reached out
became a thousand doves
who flew with softly-beating wings
ever upwards
into the unfathomable blackness.

The noise must have startled you, for all at once I felt your presence. I think I felt you touch me lightly on the shoulder, or perhaps I felt you wish to touch me lightly on the shoulder.

I could not turn to face you
- I did not know what you looked like -
you could have been anyone,

I was compelled to love you from a distance. The air became solid, took the form of spiralling stairs.

So I ran,
round and round and
up and up until I was standing on the flaming rafters,
begging the Heavens to take on
yet another
star-smirched lover.

But long after you had to go, I cherished the ghost of our church silently burning
through an endless night.

The train plunges underground
and there is only my face in
the travel-worn glass.