from Bleak (2016)
Like a knife, the rush of the wind off the river and up through the heath-grass to here. We are digging and levelling. Laying foundations.
Over the hill, to the north, the city is growing. Extending. Becoming. Town becomes city. South and then easting, follow the river’s curved reach, there are fields still. The monastery grange. Streams running off the heath into the bigger, and unto the sea.
The rain, driving hard from the west, from the Wirral, the Wales. Off the river. Sharp to our face as we lay out the frame for this chapel. Fingerbones ache around tools and this red stone, its grit flakes to sand through our hands as we heave it. How might it last here? It is wind more than words that you hear though the big man is shouting instructions. Haul it or Hold it fast. We cut through turf quickly, mud melting away in this downpour, then spades jar on rock.
It is chosen for this.
In seclusion we will lay exposed. Though the river is hidden from sight here by first rise of moorland, it defines. Scent of it brought on the smothering, breath-stealing. Samphire and salmon. Its own odour. Fish. Mud. It is half tide and ebbing now. Honking of gulls on the mudbanks. Emptying, opening, as we are this earth. Excavating the base for a meeting house hidden away in this gifted vale where our works fill with water, the falling rain mixing with earth moisture rising. Pooling. Our jackets soaked through and to skin.
I am not of God nor are half the men here in their hearts though our labours move us closer so the frocked men say. And, give credit, they offer as well their pale arms to this enterprise. Yet I have heard sermons and stories and today of all days it seems bible, this weather. Smothering. Voice thieving. No fair portent some might say but who would know? The quarrymen have carts of good stone alongside, waiting as quiet and as still as their horses for the call. I will be carpenter when this groundwork is done. It is solid and squat in conception, conceived for this spot, for this climate. Built from the bones of here, sandstone and oakbeam. Our labour.
Leave go now ere darkfall, our muscles unwinding that instant and a silence upon it made of heaven roar and rain, unbroken by vain shouts and shovel ring on stone. Tomorrow bring crowbars. We are as mud or the weather ourselves now and only the horses still standing til the pastor sets off another prayer. And gives coin. So it was yesterday and so it will be til its done.
We walk in our ways that are sequence of partings until, quite alone, I arrive home.