Paul Durcan

            The Divorce Referendum, Ireland, 1986

By the time the priest started into his sermon
I was adrift on a leaf of tranquillity,
Feeling only the need and desire to praise,
To feed praise to the tiger of life.
Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna.
He was a gentle-voiced, middle-aged man,
Slightly stooped under a gulf of grey hair,
Slightly tormented by an excess of humility.
He talked felicitously of the Holy Spirit--
As if he really believed in what he was preaching--
Not as if he was aiming to annotate a diagram
Or to sub-edit the gospel,
But as if the Holy Spirit was real as rainwater.
Then his voice changed colour--
You could see it change from pink into white.
He remarked icily: 'It is the wish of the Hierarchy
That today the clergy of Ireland put before you
Christ's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage
And to remind you that when you vote in the Divorce Referendum
The Church's teaching and Christ's teaching are one and the same.'
Stunned, I stared up at him from my pew
As he stood there supported by candles and gladioli,
Vestments, and altarboys at his feet;
I could feel my breastplate tighten and my shoulderblades quiver;
I knew the anger that Jesus Christ felt
When he drove from the temple the traders and stockbrokers.
I have come into this temple today to pray
And be healed by, and joined with, the Spirit of Life;
Not to be invaded by ideology.
I say unto you, preacher, and orators of the Hierarchy,
Do not bring ideology into my house of prayer.
I closed my eyes
And did not open them again until I could hear
The priest murmuring the prayers of the Consecration.
At Holy Communion I kept my eyes on a small girl
To whom the priest had to bend low to give her the host.
Curtseying, she smiled eagerly, and flew back down the aisle,
Carrying in her breast the Eucharist of her innocence:
May she have children of her own
And as many husbands as will praise her--
For what are husbands for, but to praise their wives?

Paul Durcan, Life Is a Dream: 40 Years Reading Poems 1967–2007, Random
House UK, 2010.