Les Murray | The Quality of Sprawl

Sprawl is the quality
of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce
into a farm utility truck, and sprawl
is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts
to buy the vehicle back and repair its image.

Sprawl is doing your farming by aeroplane, roughly,
or driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home.
It is the rococo of being your own still centre.
It is never lighting cigars with ten-dollar notes:
that’s idiot ostentation and murder of starving people.
Nor can it be bought with the ash of million-dollar deeds.

Sprawl lengthens the legs; it trains greyhounds on liver and beer.
Sprawl almost never says Why not? With palms comically raised
nor can it be dressed for, not even in running shoes worn
with mink and a nose ring. That is Society. That’s Style.
Sprawl is more like the thirteenth banana in a dozen
or anyway the fourteenth.

Sprawl is Hank Stamper in Never Give an Inch
bisecting an obstructive official’s desk with a chainsaw.
Not harming the official. Sprawl is never brutal
though it’s often intransigent. Sprawl is never Simon de Montfort
at a town-storming: Kill them all! God will know his own.
Knowing the man’s name this was said to might be sprawl.

Sprawl occurs in art. The fifteenth to twenty-first
lines in a sonnet, for example. And in certain paintings;
I have sprawl enough to have forgotton which paintings.
Turner’s glorious Burning of the Houses of Parliament
comes to mind, a doubling bannered triumph of sprawl –
except, he didn’t fire them.

Sprawl gets up the nose of many kinds of people
(every kind that comes in kinds) whose futures don’t include it.
some decry it as criminal presumption, silken-robed Pope Alexander
dividing the new world between Spain and Portugal.
If he smiled in petto afterwards, perhaps the thing did have sprawl.

Sprawl is really classless, though. It’s John Christopher Frederick Murray
asleep in his neighbours‘ best bed in spurs and oilskins
but not having thrown up:
sprawl is never Calum who, drunk, along the hallways of our House,
reinvented the Festoon. Rather
it’s Beatrice Miles going twelve hundred ditto in a taxi,
No Lewd Advances, No Hitting Animals, No Speeding,
on the proceeds of her two-bob-a-sonnet Shakespeare readings.
An image of my country. And would that it were more so.

No, sprawl is full-gloss murals on a council-house wall.
Sprawl leans on things. It is loose-limbed in its mind.
Reprimanded and dismissed
it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail
of possibility. It may have to leave the Earth.
Being roughly Christian, it scratches the other cheek
and thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl.

from The People’s Otherworld

The Sri Lanka Bombings

We are appalled, and confronted, by the awful acts of violence in Sri Lanka, on Easter Sunday. Most of us are not directly engaged, though many of us have friends and family who are. We grieve with them, are with them in their numbness and confusion, and share some portion of their anger.

It may well appear that, for many in our world, we measure out our lives in tragedy. People were worshipping in Sri Lanka, as they were in Christchurch, as people have been so many times before across the world. In worship, on holidays, at school, or pursuing the daily rounds of their lives.

Violence punctuates our community and those across our world, and some of these acts are too large to find any measure.

One immediate miscarriage of these atrocities is to speak of those who committed them as if they were faithful disciples of Christianity, or Islam, or any other faith. There is no sanctuary either, in the claim of some bastardised sense of human injustice.

Our first act, in this week when disciples of Jesus Christ speak of resurrection, of new life, is to weep with those who weep. We will love our neighbours, as is our calling.

When our tears have slowed, we need to articulate our faith, that we will not allow death and violence to be the dominant words in our vocabulary, in our lives. We refuse to let terror speak for us; we are people of the cross and resurrection, and to proclaim the crucified, risen Christ is to declare that we will live our lives with hope, and love, and justice.

And at some point, when we are able, we will speak of forgiveness. We may then speak of loving our enemies, as we are called to.

We declare that God’s love is stronger than death. We will worship, and take holidays, and go to school, and pursue our daily lives asserting that our hope and life is found in Jesus, living out the reign of God with every measure of our lives.

Notre Dame, Holy Week 2019

I have never been there.

I have heard stories, by family and friends, for more than four decades, of extraordinary majesty and beauty, sitting in the heart of Paris.

Seated now in ash, Notre Dame awaits the future, having survived wars great and awful, the depredations of monarchs and despots, and the seething anger of revolutionaries. It has endured too, the attention of so many devotees and others.

Already this morning, several friends who know the lady have spoken reverentially, and with sadness. Tales of soloists in the cathedral, echoing the voice of heaven; of sitting and waiting for God to speak; of marvelling at an inspired imagination, and those several artisans who could make hope real.

Perhaps they may build again, or restore, but it will never be the same. There will be photos and drawings for ever, but never enough to capture its entirety.

There will, wonderfully, be stories, like the ones my friends are telling. In that way, a building becomes alive, not because of stones, but through awe and worship and wonder.

In this week, of all weeks, this holy week, when we live and tell our experience of the crucified, and risen, Christ. In this week, of all weeks, our story is one of what God has imagined and brought to reality; and we bear that story in our lives.

Let us tell it well, because all is changed, all made new.