Thomas: A Poem Rebecca Tantony
During autumn 2020, as part of the Poetic City programme commemorating 250 years since the death of Thomas Chatterton, award-winning poet Rebecca Tantony undertook a week's residency in the Chatterton Room at St Mary Redcliffe to produce a new poem inspired by the spirit of Chatterton and the atmosphere of the church.
You can read the text of the poem, ‘Thomas’, below and watch a video of it being read by clicking on the button beneath it that links to Rebecca Tantony’s website.
More than a day of light and window
and an evening of glass and dark.
Church bells yawn summer’s vanish
yet the winter seems to last.
And the seasons equal change,
for growth and ache for more
and the quiet house within longs to be explored.
Empty rooms here ready to be known;
a water slide inside, a dance floor, a mobile home,
a hotel, a shopping mall, a holiday let in Devon
a hermit’s cave, a museum, an entry point into heaven.
Come on in and let you face erode,
shrug off the soles of your shoes.
Blink your eyes and rest a while in the unknown and disused.
An empty chair, an empty bed, a feeling kept quiet for so long.
That sadness you hushed away, the melancholy of song,
The anger from all those years ago, the bitten lip, swallowed truth.
In this cathedral body, a choir yearning to come through.
When familiar here inside the self, if only a moment, a tiny part.
Then imagine yourself in someone else’s truth, in someone else’s heart.
Like that old man with teenage tongue,
sat outside the church’s skin.
Wearing badges on his chest
carrying the war within.
Blessing us ‘Good day,’ no matter what we do,
or how a Father kicks ball to son, boy kicks ball to the moon.
Outside the pub-tired kings pull beer toward their lips.
English flag heavy with rain, with confusion, with spirit.
Single mother two children leading them along.
Two children whole mother to learn the living from.
Delivery driver carrying hours and all the mouths he has to feed.
Delivers to the newsagent his family’s legacy. With a bright pink lead,
a woman walks her dog. Matches the colour to her lipstick and her top.
We do not belong to one another, we are ours alone.
Yet in each other we find a window and an avenue to home.
Chatterton, I am searching
in the same city from which we both found our names.
I’m by your house now Chatterton, it’s recycled as a cafe –
we take what once was and reincarnate it again.
I am in the church now Chatterton, in the room where you wrote.
I’m in your pen now, I’m entering your throat.
I’m using your rhyming structure and the meter too.
I do not claim your genius
I claim to know some of what you knew.
I claim weird timeline that connects us somehow.
I claim similarity and ache and the overlapping what is shared.
I’m sat at your desk noticing how we both write
about the heaven inside our chest,
of how the light enters the window and gives the room its best.
Or how the sun is a laughing girl or religion a state of heart.
And the breath only ever designed to keep the start and end apart.
Before seventeen and before death you found poetry.
Age seventeen and after the death of a friend poetry found me.
And you seventeen year old boy 250 years ago.
And me here, now, all woman grown.
It’s more the language of the tongue, more the death of separation.
It’s more the us, the we, the them, more than the knowledge we leave
It’s more the poetry more the slipping through of wind between the trees.
And I close my eyes and shut down my book and find you inside myself
left centre of my heart. More than a day of light and window
and an evening of glass and dark.
A Poetic City
A Poetic City was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund using money raised by National Lottery Players. Partners running individual projects within the programme included St Mary Redcliffe Church. Rebecca Tantony was one of the programme’s Writers in Residence.