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Robert Siegel

Going On

Once I am sure there's nothing going on I step inside . . .

--"Church Going," Philip Larkin

Once I am sure that something's going on

I enter, tired of mere ritual,

of liturgy where no work is done,

of punctual repetitions. One can tell

by the face and gestures of the celebrant--

or, better, by the others celebrating

this continually renewed act

of grace (invisible except where a look can't

hide the intimate and present fact).

I go forward, even though mostly summer

is sitting, damp and musty, in the pews,

to where a few in the mid-week evening glimmer

raise hands standing, while others move

to kneel where the priest lays hands on them,

often saying words better than he knows

to say. There I stay until the end

of the service--once more hear the strong love

commending me to eat that I might live.

And so I do. This church's architecture

is nothing special. There are few monuments

or memorials present here.

Only the window in the sanctuary has yet

embraced stained glass. The walls are bare.

What happens here is rarely to be discovered

in anything but the people--well- or ill-favored,

oppressed by poverty, by wealth, by having spent

themselves to no purpose. None is good,

in our first understanding of that word. All come

with a sense, dim or clear, that what they amount to fails,

the intelligence that tirelessly adds up the sum

of things in a clear system, sparks, falters,

shorts out--leaving us to us,

until our spirit answers Abba and we know

by living contact what we can't deduce.

It is in the faces, and these come and go

like the spirit, which wanders where it will.

Even Canterbury's merely a heap of stones

until the spirit enters there and wells

in living voices, and thirty bishops dance

gravely to a voice beyond the chancel's.

Let no elegy hang here like the ghost of incense.

Rather, let walls tumble, altars grow wild--new

ones will be raised up in three days (or less)

of the sort the living spirit passes through.

Robert Siegel is professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program at the University ...

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