The Making of St Martin

by Garry Robert McDougall

Fortress Aiguize oversees Heaven
and its unnamed fields of earthly concern,
its Ardeche valley fortified by prayer,
millenium priests humbling peasantry,
moralising impotent,
indignation and poor example telling,
peasants below hearing
'Your stricken hovels suit thee,'
on lightning days, lost in storms.

In sunshine's fallow fields,
sec aire under cavernous hills,
new vines planted, growing green and dusted,
blessed by St Martin, our patron of the grape and poor,
saint of the remotely odd, no doubt a clerical error-
Aiguize priests upstairs pumping prayers,
pandering to lords, believing (they are good at believing)
peasants reason by their bellies,
profigate sex imagined, riot below
beyond Latin orders.

As grapes grow lush with the succulent,
prosperity brought to fields of bare feet,
short-lived as short bread,
peasants taxed in taxing times, (or otherwise)
those of the great upstairs making wine for themselves,
the barrels rolling, sold to multiply their bellies,
fortified by licence, Andulusian sherry
for God's keepers.

Aiguize had God's blessing (or so they say),
their ideals Good, their God bitter,
burgers and priests pointing to waste and wanton ones,
peasant drinking bouts in 'their' fields
when flooding waters part us from Aiguize,
barrier from breach, men talking large,
feisty women and their devil children sound uphill,
Aiguize's hollow lips reply:
'Peasants shall fail by their ill-gotten ways,
and our determinations, misery grins just cause
for your damnation.'

Enough. Enough.

Down amongst the pebbled stream,
around still and running waters,
our red arose to the scarring blain,
hands and cheek by cluster huts and palls,
by lime trees, the grapes are trod,
the paddle beats to Time's song sober
with squeeze and fermenting wait.

In fair possession and crafted ways,
the harvest wine taken to frequenting place
by straw paths of mud and sun,
the stubble routes see deepest red
our passageways of day,
pass corner time, where born am I,
my afterbirth ploughed into the field,
making our place a song.

Times that they are, for good or not,
dun vetement ordained,
as it is, it is, we are, I am,
shaped from above,
meant for this dung place,
wives and children drinking to St Martin,
the crackling saint blessing the villien,
the belly seeds well, for a laugh,
a love accorded red cheeks, indivisibly ours.

Ah oiu, time that it is, as it were,
revolting commoners after plague,
red markers to chapped lips and hammer toes,
our harvests won and lost,
conquerors clutching the golden cups,
Aiguize sacked and wasted,
we won revival then,
dun cloth cast aside for earthen red and azure blue,
foresworn of those above,
to the pleasure trough we go,
find a cape amidst the wooden stools,
cut in two, and given to custom,
we celebrate the sharing ways,
and not for nothing, sing for St Martin,
our saintly bent, leans to us as we to hymn,
on earthen street and strawberry lane
the whisper grows,
making a name for our place, as
St Martin de Ardeche.

In years of curse and callow,
some strive for worlds of leather,
tallow and lard,
the talisman of rot sours the grape,
bringing the wailing.
Then soldiers came a haunting,
awash in glint blades of red,
all of us dwelling behind doors
of mud and straw, wattle and daub,
trembling woman, man and child
impregnate the soils,
for we who live but cannot read,
self same and village name,
the only things we own.

The Bishops tells us, tells us, tells us:
St Martin de Tours did not own himself.
'We came for him, made a bishop uninclined,'
the man of good heart declined', said he,
our patron hiding amongst the geese
he who was, who was, who will always
lend a tankard hand, jolly for life and limb,
dwells amongst the poor, where feathers fly,
the geese be clack and quack, fattened for the few,
we peasants lucky for duck fat and a henna hand.

By then the Church owned us,
forty days fast its name,
on punishment and trembling hope,
our many, many, our many days without,
yet pulls plough, expiring on journey home,
dazed for toil.

Feast, feast, bring forth the beast
of reckless reach,
our glutton days of carrot and cake,
wine and amorous hands that clutch and tear,
communion bread, the forelock dread,
Aiguize priests ordain ritual below
chains of obedience declared,
challice blessings (with conditions)
claiming man and woman, child and ville,
all blessings given, and freedom taken.

Auguize high, St Martin be low.

The winters pass, each morning new, the year bitter.
'St Martin', we cry, 'Stay with us in Ardeche hills,
your face on limestone mirrors,'
give thanks for grapes of good, for sun and rain
return our land and ville, so some of you is ours,
some of you, is ours.

On lute and lyre days, we pray for kindly saints,
peasant and farmer dancing when
our cuttings sent throughout the causse,
wives given flowers around the cauldron gruel,
the paddle children play in ponds of sun,
our whittle days made sharp
when our saint given to soldiers and widows,
Look away, they say,
your lifelong Heaven is goats cheese on pewter plate,
prayer on earthen floor, on your knees.

In a thousand years foresworn,
St Martin de Ardeche affords stream and bridge,
fountain and drinkers seat,
Aiguize tamed and foregone,
the seventh day be a holy, owning ourselves,
clear water paddling for pleasure,
children running for thrill, not fear,
men and women around the pleasure trough
find a cape amidst the wooden stools,
cut in two and given to custom,
celebrates the sharing ways.

Garry Robert McDougall's picture

A Sydney poet and novelist, Garry gives Spanish Pilgrimage presentations, writes novels and occasional opinion pieces, teaches poetry and exhibits paintings and photographs. He is a member of the DiVerse poetry group and the South Coast Writers Centre executive. In 2013 To San Domingo de la Calzada won Second Prize, Glen Phillips Poetry Prize. In 2012, Beating Time won Highly Commended in the Peter Cowan National Short Story Prize. In 2015, he won First Prize in the Peter Cowan Short Story Prize. His early walks guidebooks, Great North Walk and New South Walks Heritage Walks, were both published with Kangaroo Press. His two novels, Belonging and Trust, are Australian stories based on historical events around 1900 and 1988 respectively. His third novel, Knowing Simone, is set in Victor Hugo's France. He won artist/author in residence with Arteles in Finland, combined with long distance walking journeys in Spain and Portugal, soon to be published as Damn! His novel's common thread is respect for people caught in hostile historical circumstances, dramatising their negotiation of powerful social and historical forces. His poetry might rhyme, be experimental, lyrical, visual or sparse, but time, word, place and the human spirit are paramount.

Last updated July 07, 2016