The Pentecost Partnerships
David Lightfoot FAITH Magazine May-June 2002
David Lightfoot revisits the theme and style of Philip Larkin’s famous poem ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ with sustained technical control, even using Larkin’s original syllable count and rhyming scheme. But instead of Larkin’s secular cynicism about traditional marriages, he sharply evokes the shallowness and instability of the fashionable idea of ‘partnership’ in a culture now devoid of sacramentality and deprived of the Holy Spirit.
This Pentecost I haven't got away
at all.You see,
it's just not what you'd call a holiday,
not one kept by the whole community.
For that you need the banks to shut up shop,
and as it's hard business as usual
there can't be variation of routine.
Instead I take a stroll rather than stop
inside on such a day - late spring but dull,
the may a lather, oaks and beeches green.
Five houses are for sale along our road,
each board leaning
a bit more out like some nap hand, in code
estate agents think helps to sell the thing.
Less than two years ago they all moved in;
five couples and ten cars - no kids or pets.
Now only one Fiesta engine clicks
cool on each drive, as sleek blackbirds begin
their evening antiphon of shrill regrets,
and from his fridge the debt-collector picks
one TV dinner from the stack. Next door
reheats his takeaway. At Number Four
it smells like curry, warmed up earlier
this afternoon. The nerd at Number One,
unshaven still - executive's work now
from home - unloads some lager from a van.
Across the road, because his cook has gone,
the quantity surveyor ponders how
much oil he'll need to grease his omelette pan.
It's rare to see a sacrament begin,
or vows exchanged
to cleave together through life's thick and thin,
though rings are swapped and partnerships arranged.
Cohabitants hold hands at jewelers'
windows, tables are full in restaurants
and offers of a week in Tenerife
are grabbed. Contracts, defining his and hers,
anticipating each as litigants,
are framed to obviate most future grief.
So life goes on, although they change the locks.
It's strange, but why
do marriages break ‘up’ like ships on rocks,
but these relationships break ‘down’? They try
to mask with words inbuilt fragility,
and in their choice of them betray the fact
they all along knew which was meant to last
and which, in time, would of necessity
malfunction, like machines, because they lacked
intention to endure; and skipped the fast
that must precede the feast. What, after all,
did they expect -
a three-year warranty, with help a call
away on their mobiles? An architect
who dared design a building on a site
so certain to subside would be called mad.
Or did they think it was some sort of trial
to see if they were suited, which they might
abandon, if it soured and all turned sad;
so ‘civilised’ about it they could smile?
Night's edging on. The midges start to bite.
Most windows glow
uncurtained, modern life-styles in full sight:
wide-screen TV's tuned in to seers who know
it all - the nation's fate, the social trends,
the top ten books you buy but never read.
Dark drops of rain release electric smells
from pavement dust, a breeze from Denmark bends
Leylandii hedgetops. My neighbours weed
herbaceous borders, and Saint James's bells
throb out shock-waves of solemn sound that swerve
a homing scarf
of starlings overhead. Their swarming curve
smears out the rising moon's rose-yellow half.
A sly star winks low in the west between
two horizontal branches of the oak
estate developers schemed hard to fell.
The party starts at Number One. They're keen
to show the road they're liberal sort of folk:
we're all invited there, ‘partners’ as well.