Brompton Oratory, a hot lunch-time in July,
a baby being received into the Catholic Church
and Catholic upper-crust society;
dressed-up, a group stands round the font.
Otherwise the building’s almost empty, save a
scattering of oddballs dotted round the nave,
the occasional stray tourist fleeing from the sun.
A little girl in blue and white-striped dress
escapes the cluster of family and friends.
She patters down the aisle towards the wardrobe-like
confessionals – archaic Wendy-houses –
which lure her to explore their dark insides;
drunk with happiness, she crawls along a pew;
ecstatic – the Oratory one unimagined playground.
Behind her plods the solemn uncle.
Determined not to make a sideshow of himself,
he doesn’t chase – but holds himself on guard
till the moment she stands still. She totters,
absorbing wonder, dizzies herself with space…
He scoops her up, bears her back towards propriety –
the serious expectations of family and Church.
[Published in Ironing the hankies: a selection of 20 poems, Pikestaff Press, 1999]