Two poems by Richard Skinner

The Cloud of Unknowing

There, it is done.
We have built squarely
in the dross of the land
a place of worship for our Lord.

It took years to sand the stone,
make flush the lines.
But, really, we were shaping our own
misshapen lives.

Scrape mud before you enter, be clean.
Embolden yourself—look up, look up!
The columns involve you,
all perpendicular, skyward.

The tracery, too, leads to heaven,
leavening the spirit.
The blue and red glass
stain your upturned face.

On the lectern, the text,
a pool of learning deeper
than all the sky, all the
windows of radiance.

Its great lesson is that,
when we are slain,
we walk through a door
and enter the jardin.

A wren and a hawk will
sit there in a wish tree,
and when you cry,
there will be no reply.

And the wren, not the hawk,
will fly to where none can climb
and will perch among the high rocks.
And a bell will sound.

The Malvern Aviator
for Richie McCaffery

My father’s watch. One of only a few hundred.
Dark blue face, Arabic numerals.
It keeps terrible time. I wear it now
only to counterweigh the days,
the equinoxes and leap years.

When there is an odd jump in time
(the clocks going forward),
it even-keels me, like bike stabilisers,
swimming wings.
I do not fall down, I do not drown.

But if I were to take it off and abandon it
by my large granite basin,
its hands would fail with the iron
and I would venture out in the world,
ending up as a heap of ashes.

Richard Skinner is a writer working across fiction, life writing, essays, non-fiction and poetry. He has published three novels with Faber & Faber and three books of non-fiction. His poetry first appeared in the Faber anthology First Pressings (1998) and since in anthologies for William Blake, John Berger and Médicines Sans Frontières. He has published three books of poems with Smokestack: the light user scheme (2013), Terrace (2015) & The Malvern Aviator (2018). Richard is Director of the Fiction Programme at Faber Academy.