The Temple and the Dove

Within a vaulted chamber's stark expanse
Which echoed like the wind drawn through a skull
With measured tread, the sonorous hymns and chants
Of shrouded men emerging from the hall,

I stood without a word, back to a column,
And stared at the procession slowly passing,
Their hooded faces, and their bearing solemn,
Toward an altar to bestow their blessing.

Two iron chandeliers hung overhead
Like talons of a monstrous bird of prey,
And from their frames a sulphurous light was shed,
As like the glimmer of a passing day
When mothers tuck their little ones to bed,
And shadows from the east, in dark array,
     Advance with steady and relentless sweep
     To wrap the world within an ebon deep.

This sunset glare, this torchlight, spread its hue
Full over all within the temple's space,
Upon the pious and deliberate queue
Advancing on that monument of grace.

A stately structure, topped with marble white,
The altar stood there flanked by unlit braziers
Which sprawled like sleeping guardians huddled tight
Around a sorcerer's infernal treasures.

And from the marble, rose a golden cross
Which gleamed in righteous splendor, faith, and pride,
The sacred symbol of a man whose loss,
It's said, won the redemption of mankind.

Soon the foremost in the monks' brown ranks
Had reached the altar and with torches lit
The braziers. Then, in vapor-streams which stank,
A dirty smoke uncoiled in writhing fits,

And rose to gather all its reeking fumes
Into a pungent fog beneath the ceiling,
And then I thought I heard a martial tune
Rise from the monks, who faced the altar kneeling.

Then I, crouched silent, back against that pillar,
Gazed upward and I saw a figure white,
Much like a ghost or like a dancing miller
Which fluttered in the dim and ruddy light.

I fixed it with my eyes and read its make.
It was a dove caught deep within the mist
As if within the grasp of some dread snake
Which drew its length around the bird and hissed.

About its breast its bright wings beat and whirred
And round and round the chandeliers it flew,
Its fatal striving made distorted, blurred,
As underneath the mounting vapors grew.

And then, at last, the fog consumed its shape.
Then all I saw was movement, veiled and scarce,
The struggle of this bird for its escape,
Its freedom from this choking, burning air.

Then, like a feather from a mountain cast,
My eyes beheld the falling white-clad star
Which dropped, unheeded by the gathered mass,
To limply lie upon the temple's floor,
And there were spoken sacred vows of war.

George Chadderdon © 1996