The cathedral was swathed in scrims
and scaffolding; sandblasters scoured
off the grime of the century.
We’d found the door like the loose
end of a bandage to begin the unraveling.
Now from the observation deck halfway up St. Paul’s,
from which London flowed
lava-like in all directions, sun-shot
and hazy, we spiraled down hardwood steps,
537, like maple seedlings toward terra firma,
past grafittoed names knifed into stucco
two, three hundred years ago,
stairs buffed, darkened, eroded
by generations of feet, the pious or curious.
Through occasional windows like arrow slits
the city revealed itself but we were encased
in the entrails of history. We continued
to the crypt, cool and oddly
bright to help us see the residents
beneath, behind, stone slabs incised
with names and dates like the walls,
with lore, with epitaphs. Henry Moore,
his plaque as angled and unMoore-like
as the rest, Samuel Johnson, Bulwer-
Lytton, the great Turner at our feet
and back, and back, to Blake,
bust black, globe-pated and pugnacious.
Until well warmed, parched, awed,
we gravitated to the crypt café
where across from the tea dispenser
a great placard served as tombstone
for those who’d lain here before the first
cathedral fell in the Great Fire.
Including–holy crow!–King Ethelred,
died 1016. It sank in
as we chewed our sandwiches, absorbing
the ancient holy space transmogrified
to museum. We bought our postcards
and replicas of Roman coins and exited
into the blast of summer London, the stink
of tourist buses. The priest intoned
as the door shut
about this week’s Iraqi deaths, the Sudanese,
the war, wars, never far despite the lessons
we should have learned since Ethelred ruled.
We wished for peace, change
as incremental, imperceptible as the bending
of all those sturdy stairs to the persistent
will of foot after foot after patient foot.
Sean Bentley is currently focusing on photography, as well as nonfiction. But it’s probably just a phase. He is the son of Nelson and Beth Bentley, and born in Seattle. He was coeditor of Fine Madness magazine from 1984 to 2006, and is president 1998-2000 of Friends of Nelson Bentley. Visit the web site for a list of Sean Bentley’s publications, sample poetry and fiction, etc. He lives in Bellevue and works as a technical writer for Tyler Technology. Sean Bentley’s poetry collections include: Grace & Desolation: New Poems (Cune Press, 1996), Instances: Poems (Confluence Press, 1979), and Into the Bright Oasis (Jawbone Press, 1976).