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Before The Manuscripts Are Chained

The abbot’s insistent: so much to do before

snow covers the quarries and the passes are closed.

He has us at our desks before dawn; commissions

come down from the abbey every other day.

Yesterday we lost a hymnal

because the gold leaf ran too quickly: the master raged.

Artists and scribes huddle in tense corners

squabbling over designs, boys run

to keep the tapers alight, haul saffron

and chalk, stack the finished gatherings.


I step into the frost outside.  The moon

has scraped the sky in readiness:

a dark time.  And yet, the way dawn draws

its colours from the earth

I think of you down the dreary day.

I look at the initial drop beside its line

and think of how your hair falls beside your face;

I see the space left for “Osculetur me

sharpen my quills, incise the vellum.

A catchword at the bottom of the page

has me leaning forward to hear your voice.

The awl’s marks lead like tiny footsteps

to our household’s industry, and I would send

far for the lapis lazuli of our skies.


Can I pour enough colour into these spaces

even if smudged by my failures of reason or spirit?

Do I need to ask, as I have asked all these years,

never needing to ask: who will end my apprenticeship?

Who will say the tiers of my learning are over, grant me

licence to proceed beyond the simplest of undertakings?

Illuminate me.

University of Canberra International Poetry Prize longlist 2014

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