Lynne Knight

My Father’s House

I was one of the black-hearted ones, my father said,
a Protestant whom they would try to proselytize,
thumping his dictionary like the Bible it was
to him, warning me not to be seduced by the robes
and glories, the incense and beautiful words.
But the gold and smoke, the brocade, the murmurs
as penitents knocked at their hearts to open
the door to mercy, forgiveness — who could resist 
such pageantry? The chapel walls were painted mauve
and during Lent, with all the saints and the Virgin
draped in purple cloth, it seemed some elaborate
fashion show was about to begin. Heretical
to think, my father said. No doubt the nuns saw
my dereliction [more thumping] and were contriving
immediate conversion. I was not to let my guard down.

But God was my guard, and the hosts of angels
ready to descend and save my wayward soul,
I would think on my way to school, bantering
like a normal girl on the five-mile bus ride
but all the while thinking this might be the day
the chapel wall opened and Christ stepped through
in a blaze of light to save me, and everybody
would see, and fame would come, and the dirt
floor under the sofa where I sat while my father
explained the world would vanish into carpet,
walls, heat: the finished house of my father.
But my father’s house was all words. Make a bed
of words to lie down in. Make a floor of words
to stand on. Make a faith of words that nothing
would betray — not his drunken promises, 
not his blueprints untouched under ash and dust.
Make a hope of words, the start of forgiving.