It seems to matter
I use a Zippo,
not the taper’s monkish flame.
It seems to matter I choose the white
over red before asking the difference,
that I love the fresco’s talented horse
though couldn’t name his rider –
but what’s not authentic at the Virgin’s feet?
She knows I am not a bad person, just troubled.
She knows the wick is burning.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2006. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2006 was Janice Galloway.
Emotionally layered, using very simple language – my favourite thing. This acknowledging flickering godlessness in the face and house of God is immediately recognisable. Absolutely spot-on.
In one sense, the poem was written directly from experience: I found myself in Albi Cathedral, in southern France, lighting one of the many candles arranged around the feet of the carved religious figures, and wondering why I felt myself compelled to do so. Ostensibly it was a gesture of commemoration for a friend of mine, to whom the poem is dedicated. I was thinking about him as I admired the inside of the building, because I imagined that he would have appreciated the architecture and the human effort of such a space, even given his profound problems with religion. Of course, only part of this is evident from the poem. My friend was omitted in all but name, and the argument personalised. At the time I wrote it, I felt that it was a sort of secular humanist crie de coeur. Now I wonder if the final lines are not disingenuous. How can you invoke the approval of a Virgin you do not believe in? How can you be so sure you are good?