Once or twice in her life,
a woman’s spirit is split
open by a test of faith.
A cross-section of the architectural damage
may reveal: internal fissures, leaks
of self-belief, loneliness that
grows thick in the walls and eaves.
In that moment of stark vulnerability,
we are humbled by truth.
The half-collapsed pulpit
and pews where her dignity
gets crushed by doubt.
The aumbry of love,
which sometimes fails to lend patience.
And the questions, the many questions
laid out on the altar.
You’ll look away, of course.
Staring at grief is impolite.
And if she’s still able to surprise you
after all this — after you see the pillars
of her guts smashed open, bare and rough —
she’ll pull out from her lungs
(the pipe organ and choir-stalls)
a dry laugh that kindles hope.
Finally, if she’s like the women I know,
she’ll calmly dip her fingers
into a bowl of holy water
and grab a spade and level
to assemble herself again.

Melissa Payne


Note: The imagery of a woman’s body as a cathedral alludes to Saint Augustine of Hippo’s Tractates on the Gospel of John, where he describes a woman as ‘a church not yet made righteous’.

Melissa Payne grew up in a small town in South-East Queensland, but has also spent time living in Europe, as well as Brisbane. She is a poet with a Bachelor of Creative & Professional Writing from the Queensland University of Technology.

© 2019