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?
University of Canberra International Poetry Prize longlist 2014