Venterol Bells

by Garry Robert McDougall

In the year 1244

Stern, candleless morning,
weak light on stomach's awning,
the bells of Venterol ding
to the valley's groan and daub.

Rise to holiness' false tone,
peasants passing fortress times
limping, backs shackled to land,
ox and master, shirk and furrow,
no time conversing
with nobility or church's
fixed line of interest.

Live resentment,
plot and plod,
when light bites and bells command
'Get to church on time,'
but never on a horse.

Left to bad temper evenings,
assured the never-present saints shall free you,
lucky for death in bed,
eternal guilty and sinful selves
reach for box and die,
when a farmer's destiny is
fertilizing onions and leeks.

Time clings to our thin girth, like rabbit pelt,
without the gut of honour,
our given template is sticks to burn,
hands to prove and lives to suffer,
thinking food-on-the-table
and pumping the night
for pregnant tomorrow,
should Fate allow.

Winter rains
benign niggard dukes,
black olives in their mouths,
smiling for priest and lord
in oily light and shadow frosts,
duck-fat on our curling lip and
tongue-tied selves. Cut cheese with
leathery thumbs.

Given mud tracks
to our pastures and homes,
no ambry, coffer, goblet or ring
on our bench and daub home,
Hells bells, is there no relief
from building roads for the king,
and carriageways for his nobles?
Our friends fight other's wars
to the sound of horns.

The Barronies hills echo
to solstice weddings and Saturnalia funerals,
vassals knowing sorrow and eternal misfortune
to flapping wings and gilded vulture,
all of us tied to the honest work
of ploughing, husbanding and harvest.

Venterol bell's spring irony
when a passing priest wins pilgrimage south,
his good-work is sullying daughters and boys,
escaping God's judgment,
his white hands touching silk before saintliness,
crime before choirs.

In dawn's rapacious mist,
the tower rises
above the silence
tolling the fallen ones,
the black plague donating
bodies to stone slabs and yellow pyres
lord and tiller equal,
no quarter spared by the diseased wind
blowing through our guts,
villien, lord and abbot given a Tartar's farewell.

Laughter becomes death
when every tenant prone
is a master's lost labour, a peasant's release.
Priests and abbots escape, tendering to no one,
the pope inside his ring of fire,
lest people beg for mercy.

Uproar sees the budding fields untended,
calamity still, every minute craving
life's last pleasures lost
in funeral fells.
Plague takes away
our mother and brother.

the bells,
those gluttons for time,
dire & sleepless chiming
breeding the dutiful,
putting the dullard in us,
kept from knowledge
lest peasant's learning turn to passion,
captive to miracles, faith and lords,
lest our stubble Latin become opinion,
our muddy boots rebellion,
finding life's darkest knight
in every witch's brew.

Hours strike and persist, summer long,
ploughman in the fields not knowing
his child lifted from forest glade,
taken for slavery or ransom,
our masters but at home
when tocsin bells call,
our eyes turning
to the savage forest,
the gathering tribe with lance & scythe,
piercing the sky, hills overtaken,
archer and artisan searching
until dawn's cruel light
spears hope,
and hoe thrown down,
despair becomes our brother.

Love's losses mount our shoulders,
the Rhone's bay horses galloping south
all the land knowing our towering pain,
when lord and priest regale
'God works in mysterious ways-
you work without stopping.'

Redemption be damned,
finding ourselves in the master's chamber
seeing his piss pot with a velvet seat,
running our hands over his bear skin rugs
warming our backs at their fireplace
inspecting the book of numbers before–
ceaseless bells,
calling the age of must.

Then one
passing day's
autumn soothsayer
foretells that bells shall
harass their crimson robes,
take wine from their white hands,
place coins on a merchant's pale tongue,
our mantic messenger next day
leaving with a spear in his back.

Coarse anger finds haughty voice,
drumming locusts removing the raven's cap,
clawing lord and gentry
priest and abbot,
red morning
bells ringing
unbounded joy,
the voices of blood
staking vitals and venison.
Revenge is flour for a million,
milk for a crying child,
sang-froid angels
gifting bread, honey and mead,
grapes and lavender,
eyes, lips and tongue seeing
the meek inheriting the earth,
and the quick, gathering gold.

Thunder and black wings,
the gilded vulture strikes,
arrows piercing throats,
women torn by knights
sworn to chivalrous love,
merciless reply to peasant revolt,
lancing voices, distended limbs,
hands grasping for stupendous resolution,
sinless silence
to winter frosts
and prowling wolves,
Venterol devoured,
village heartless
and abandoned,
castle crumbling.

Miraculous tomorrow
is the falcon's claw,
the night owl eyes,
the beak of a swift
drawing blood from a horse's back,
consuming beetle and mite
in fields of lavender,

Venterol rebuilt,
rubbing shoulders
with pining souls
resonant voices chanting
for a thousand years
tolling triumph, quavering loss,
Humanity's sobering toll becomes
the vibrant carillon of ages.

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