Jeremy Lockhart Nelson: ‘Cancer Bed’ and ‘Hoc Est’

Cancer Bed

As my train
passed my brother’s station
in the Southern Highland town
of Bundanoon
I knew that he
still wished to live

and yet I thought
that death like broken cogs
soon would rattle in his throat,
his breath would fail,
his withered flesh set firm
and skin stretch tight
to gleam like pale
and polished stone.

For month on month
this tormented man
upon his bed of private pain
clutched hard the zest for life
that fed his last desire
to lift him back
to his frail body’s
former grace.

But his thin arms
lacked the strength
to turn the wheel
that steered his life.

And lack of speech
from half his tongue
cut off
provoked a rage
against whomever was close by.

His frantic gaze
would brim with flame,
his gaunt and frustrate
hands gesticulate:

“I want my life.
Let not my days descend
into an unrelenting dark
but let them rise
towards the glory
of the cock-crow skies
and leaf-cool shade
of summer’s hot high noon.

And let me not
lose myself too soon
before old age’s
crowning glory
honours me.

O let me fade
upon a glowing afternoon
with neither pain
nor fear of loss.

Or may the Risen Lord

now come for me
and take me from
my cross.”

Jeremy Lockhart Nelson


Hoc Est
for John Sheldon

Beneath the atom’s ordered
universe, behind
the flash of particle
on particle, the reach
of wave on wave, there lies
what human thought alone
cannot unfathom. It is
the joy within whose pulse
all things outfold, the play
that broke the stars to shape
the sun. It is the will
beyond all worlds. It formed
the land. It filled the seas,
set deep the basalt plates
to shift the continents
and prise the mountains up.
Ice and snow, wind and rain
then ground them down to smith-
ereens and smoothed out plains
where plant and bird and beast
could thrive and multiply.
Aeons passed—whence came
our wise ancestral humans
whose newfound skill would tame
wild grass and raise rich grapes
from terraced ground—so bread
and wine became our daily
food, our mortal hope,

its lack despair. Then blessed
for us as Christ’s true flesh
for us, his blood for us,
they nurture us, lift up
our hearts to all that is—
Hoc est: I am who am—
in thanks, in praise.

Jeremy Lockhart Nelson


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