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After Babel               Gospel Truths III:  Martha

         Metamorphosis           Seven Weeks


After Babel


The day after work stopped on the building

when suddenly no one knew what to call

a hammer or a nail, when parrot screeches

and the growl of wolves clashed in the Tower

 – after we'd all fallen silent again  and no one

was even sobbing  - the next morning, Grandmother

banged a ladle on a pan, called us together.

With wide gestures she invited us to sit

and then distributed slips of paper, tucking

them into our pockets, folding the flaps, frowning.


She laid her forefinger then on her lips

and pointed upward. Haltingly in the silence

our voices answered: Cielo. Ouranos.

Himmel. Sky. She nodded, flicked her hands

dispersing us to wander off alone.


We left the tower – what did it matter now?

 – and set off on the paths across the fields

and woods. Rain fell. The sun shone.

Berries were ripe. A fox, rank and bushy,

crossed the path, wordless. Among the branches

swooped shadows and the purring flight of birds.

I named and named until my head was full

 – then, hungry, astonished, eager, returned home

to share my hoard of words with all the others.


Grandmother had baked bread and cooked soup.

She fed us all, listening to our jargon

and the next day sent us out in groups.

It seemed she’d listened to our dreams as well

for Aleph, Beth and Gimel came with me

and Beth’s child, who didn’t have a name.

This time we travelled further. Each halt

along the way we gathered clumps of names

quarrelling occasionally, but quickly learning

to go for something everyone could say.


Sometimes we camped in the same place for weeks

and stocked our heads with movements: stretching, stooping,

leaving, returning, sleeping, waking, kissing.

I kept with Aleph, Gimel set up with Beth

so new and subtler movements were recorded:

the branches of a tree moved like a lover,

the earth was a mother. Likeness was born.


At times we met the others, traded words

and ate new foods. One day, at last, we thought

of the folded strips of paper. They were faded

now, and hard to read. We smoothed them out

and found a single word in our old language.

It was the same on every one (and try

as we might we never recalled another).

‘Together’, it said. ‘Together’. ‘Together’.



Christine Webb

in collection, After Babel, 2004, Peterloo Poets,

ISBN 1-904324-03-7




Gospel Truths III: Martha


I was elbow-deep in grease. That lamb

(in a herb crust) doesn’t exactly cook

itself. And there’s a pan to scour after.

Then the home-made bread, bitterleaf salad

(lightly dressed with oil) not to mention

figs, plums, apricots, almonds and a couple

of bottles of wine. I didn’t notice him

(or anyone) refusing second helpings

nor minding me dodging about with dishes,

spooning gravy, cutting extra bread.

After dinner, there’s our Mary sitting

literally at his feet – he has the one

comfortable chair, she’s hunched on a cushion

drinking it all in. I’m doing a quick sweep

round the kitchen, hoping to get back to the chat

half listening to them while I go on stacking

pots. Then here he is in the doorway:

‘Mary’s made the best choice,’ he says.

I stare. Is this a joke? My good lamb

hardly out of his mouth, beard stained with gravy:

‘You should prioritise more. Don’t spend so long

in the kitchen.’ And he’s on his way,

picking a thread of meat from his teeth. God.



Christine Webb

in collection, After Babel, 2004, Peterloo Poets,

ISBN 1-904324-03-7







              In memory of Ted Hughes


Heard you were dead; took down your Tales from Ovid.


Hercules roared off the page, wrestling

Trees, rocks as he died; the Bacchantes

Wrenched Pentheus' sinews apart,dis-

Membering him like a chicken; softly, Midas

Drooled idiot gold, spat barren


                 These destructions

Shadowed others, more intimate, and howled

In other forms, fangs, claws, the oily birth-

Puddle of those born dead.

                                Old shape-shifter,

You lurk, pike, otter, in the dark

Richness of my mind; the sky of four

Decades quivers with your winds and wings:

Hawk hangs overhead, or crows

Torn like black paper in the gale toss

Your words away...

                        I must go out,

Savour the late sun, the scattered kindle

Of  leaves, breathe in a new element

That now holds you as you held it, broad-

Casts you over and over the land

Seeding us with your cells' wealth.



Christine Webb

in collection, After Babel, 2004, Peterloo Poets,

ISBN 1-904324-03-7





Seven Weeks


Seven weeks today. A July wind

is tousling the trees, rumpling the garden.

I have written five letters, washed the sheets.

A mistake somewhere – I’ve not finished

the crossword. Sit with the sounds of Sunday.

Thrashing leaves. Cows. Planes. My own breath.


All week the air has burnt: it is breath

from a lion’s mouth. No stir of wind

to brush the cheeks of the sixth Sunday:

silence quivers in the house, and the garden

shrivels, as if the season’s finished.

I sort bed linen. There are too many sheets.


A week leafed with letters. I scan these sheets

about you, half alert to hear your breath

until the words remind me that it’s finished.

So sorry to hear. Rain in the wind

hasn’t enough weight to nourish the garden.

Bells clang dryly. It is the fifth Sunday.


I wake in your presence the fourth Sunday –

not lying passive between your sheets

but laughing, striding in the summer garden

your mouth full of kisses, and your breath

sweeter and stronger than the June wind.

Why did I wake before the dream was finished?


Ready to go. I’ve nothing left unfinished

you told me once. But now beside a Sunday

river I want you here to watch the wind

curving sails, to feel the hauled sheets

as the boats put about, to taste the breath

of summer gusting down from every garden.


The second week I meet you in the garden

sitting under the oak where you once finished

fixing the swing-seat; not out of breath

but quiet and absorbed, reading the Sunday

papers, glancing up, rustling the sheets,

pinning one down that flutters in the wind.


I look out at the garden that first Sunday

when everything is finished. I smooth the sheets

and listen for your breath. There is only the wind.



Christine Webb

winner, Poetry London poetry competition 2007 and

published in Autumn edition


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