Because it is old, I said when I read about it.
Because it is religious, and because I, too,
am religious. There it is, in the middle of town,
just one street over from the river we’d been
following. At the entrance, the docent
hands us a laminated document describing
what we suppose we are seeing–a dormitory
a story above, a kitchen, a refectory. These
all to be parsed from the rubble of a building,
of the body of the building, its remains.
The grace of what’s left is in the nave, a carved
stone high altar, part of a rood screen. The ceremony
of the place somehow still speaking. We climb
the next level up. This is where the friars ate.
They slept below. The laminate points to a small
balcony called a desk, whence one would have read
to the others from scripture as they readied for sleep.
Under an alcove–what it held once we can only guess
–stand headstones, tilted, sideways, the names
by now softened, effaced. In this north Atlantic town,
it’s a wonder any name, etched or carved,
survives, even in stone. Only the ambulatory
–three halls with pillars and arches on half walls,
looking out onto the current grass–seems whole.
I walk down each passage more than once, sheltered
from the soft rain, trying on the rhyme and echo
of the pillars arching away in procession, looking up
at grass or moss lining the stone laid in curves to form
the corners.Would the friars have felt this elegance,
the art of it? Little wildflowers thread the grass
and even the walls. The sky is low and gray.
The abbey is perhaps the reason there is a town
at all. It’s hard to suss the priority. For awhile it was even
the town’s cemetery, the apparent destiny of every churchyard.
The yard, even the church itself, is littered with graves.