! The Eyes Of The Ikon - Poem by Michael Shepherd
The door creaks as she opens it
and the fall of the heavy iron latch
echoes through the empty church.
The atmosphere inside, this cold day,
is heavy, as such holy places are,
locked now at night; heavy,
with what? Anticipation? Memory,
of all the human emotions
that have passed through them?
There’s still the clinging promise,
the fragrance of yesterday’s incense;
it could almost be a midnight forest
in its wood-scented mystery.
She lights a candle, drops a coin
slowly, as those do to whom
each coin has a meaning.
She is small, shrunken as the aged are,
wrapped into roundness against the cold,
yet neatly; today there’s an extra sense of purpose
about her walk towards the glittering
gold ikonostasis –
is it the anniversary of the day
her husband perished in the labour camp?
Or the day her son died fighting
so that such as she might live,
to mourn him, proudly, all her life?
Or was she, is she, that unmarried, famous
junior lecturer who lost her job
for speaking truth, whose students
carried her shoulder-high and placed her
on the tank outside the university,
challenging its gun?
She kneels in front of the ancient ikon,
framed in gold; the ikon that tourists
note with a glance, as ‘Christ’…though when painted,
it was known as ‘Son of God’; now they call it
‘Son of Man’ – that seems to suit it.
She looks intently into its eyes
as she has so many times; each time,
a new day, asking what He has in store for her.
As intently as its painter, praying as he worked,
that He might come and fill the painted form
with His eyes, His heart, His soul; all that He brought to earth
from That which sent Him…
She looks into the eyes of the ikon –
or does the ikon look at her?
In some other world, there is mighty sound,
perhaps a word; the air is filled with soundlessness;
there’s fire that burns forever; great waters flow
like grace itself; new earth is watered.
She sees, in some great where between
herself and all things, love that cannot be measured;
mercy that can only explain itself with itself;
grace that’s only known; her life
opens itself to her clearly, soundlessly;
all is revealed to the seeking heart.
The candles flicker; the door creaks,
and the heavy iron latch echoes
once, in the empty church. The Son of Man
in the form of an old woman wrapped against the cold,
steps out into His kingdom. A few snowflakes;
a pale winter sun. Look into her eyes.
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