Poem O’ The Week: The Last Sermon Of Reverend Mortsafe

Tonight is our monthly literary cabaret night, Homework. Each month we produce and perform new material around a set theme: like homework, geddit? This month’s theme is ‘Monologues’.

I thought this would be much easier, you guys. We’re getting in some actors to deliver some of the pieces, and the rest we’re performing ourselves. I was reading Milton last week, so grandiloquent apologias for the devil in iambic pentameter were on my mind. I meant for my monologue to be funny, but it came out sadder than I expected. I may well return to this post and edit the piece in due course – as you read it, bear in mind that it’s intended to be a performance piece. Maybe try reading it out!

The Last Sermon Of Reverend Mortsafe

Uh, hi. So… yeah. It looks like this is it.
Perhaps I ought to start. I’d thought – well, hoped –
That more might come to see me off, you know,
Make sure I really leave. Perhaps a flood
Has inundated Lower Spinney Lane
And while we sit here, safe within the church,
Those ex cathedra thrash in cataracts
Of roaring spume, Mrs McGoldrick dashed
And dashed again against the cricket club
By wanton tides as lightning bolts descend
To pick off damp survivors hunched on roofs,
Mouths wailing: ‘Why? O Lord-’ I’m joking, please –
Just sit down, Mr Archer, hear me out.
The parish wardens promised me one last
Hurrah. A chance to say goodbye. Come, come.
One always starts a sermon with a joke.
That’s lesson number one at vicar school.
I shan’t be long (that’s lesson number two).
We’ve souls enough to make a start – let’s see:
There’s one, two, three, four… twelve of you. And me.
Now Mrs Park, I see you look confused –
You’ve been in… Filey, was it? Very swish.
I’d fill you in on everything you’ve missed,
Alas, my tongue is manacled, my lips
Sewn closed by solemn oaths. Let others dwell
On intrigues, cloaks, stilettos plunged in backs,
The clank of silver heaped in mottled palms-
Please Mr Archer – wait. Don’t go. Not yet.
Allow me this. I’ll keep it brief. Besides,
This sermon is for you. When I was ten,
I built a fort from lolly sticks and glue –
The former scavenged out of bins, scrubbed clean,
Pressed into service as portcullis teeth
Or walkways, buttresses, as drawbridge planks
Or sliced with careful, tongue-out craft-knife strokes
To act as flagpoles, bearing coats-of-arms
With pencil-crayoned bears and hippogriffs.
The drawbridge really worked – a cotton reel.
I worked for weeks, applying paint in slow,
Grey sheets. The crenellated turrets loomed
Like cliffs above the varnished, blood-blue moat.
The castle made me feel less scared at night.
At last, one day, I took it into school.
My father dropped me off outside the gate,
His leather driving glove cold on my cheek.
‘I’m proud of you,’ he said, and kissed my brow,
While all across the playground faces turned,
Appalled at this grotesque display of love.
I walked across the tarmac, castle gripped
In mittened fists, imagining the strength
It leant at home would gird me here, against
The blazered boys who smelt my wary grief
And strange, unmothered musk, and felt a pang,
An intuition that their own mums might,
One day, drop dead. They didn’t like that much.
I tried to smile. You know me, Mrs Park –
I’m always grinning, hard. A palisade.
It’s words like that – they mark you. ‘Palisade’.
Who wouldn’t hate a child who spoke like that?
Oh, look at me, behind my palisade!
A-strutting through the playground, chin aloft
I’d slap me, Mrs Park. I’d turn that cheek
From pasty white to purpled mauve. I think
I thought I might be Jesus. Ah! You knew
He’d turn up in the story somehow, eh?
He’s sly like that, the- SIT BACK DOWN!
I’m preaching, Mr Archer! When I’m gone
You and your doctrinaire compatriots
May, if you wish, parade amongst the pews
Or dance upon my effigy in sack.
How unsurprising that, when Christ arrives
You run. Please don’t cry, Mrs Park. There, there.
I never saw who tripped me. Flagpoles snapped.
Siege engines shaped like boots appeared. And stamped.
My father taught me Christ forgives all sins
If we, in turn, forgive our foes, be they
Parochial committees taking votes
To quell unruly priests, or priests themselves.
And yes, the Parish rumour mill is right:
My thoughts on parts of Scripture have, of late –
If you’ll excuse the loaded phrase – evolved.
When men arrived for father – armed police
With claims of vengeance wrought upon the meek,
With claims of mercy if he’d just submit –
He led me to the cellar and confessed:
‘I’m sorry, son. I tried to make it right.’
He handed me a scuffed-up, tiny flag
Then kissed me, gently, on my tousled crown.
I watched him climb the stair and shut the door.
I never heard the shots, nor saw his fall.
What good is Good if Good stands by and tuts
And weeps and never acts? ‘Oh, what a world!’
We say, and dab our dainty eyes, ‘So sad!’
While hearts grind under heels and walls fall down.
For who is God to tell us to forgive
When Satan writhes in dire, unyielding flame
For daring to rebel, for granting us
The knowledge of ourselves, enough to choose?
God smashes towers. He hates it when we build.
Yes, fuck off Mr Archer! Take your hidebound
Constipated soul – oh, you too, Mrs Park?
Then go. Go, all of you. But think on this:
It’s easy to love Jesus. He was nice.
But loving Satan – there’s the trick, the feat
Of heart that even Christ foreswore.
What walls hath love, and what can we forgive?
I think I love the Devil. There. It’s said.
Not as some vast, red, cloven-footed prince
But as a fellow child in pain. He fell.
If love means aught, then we must pick him up.

I can do a lot better than this poem – buy my debut collection, Pub Stuntman, by way of proof.

You can also download my album of spoken word and sweet music. It’s called Jesus Buys Me Cigarettes.