Bell, Book, and Candle

by Josh Bishop

“But these dark powers do not rule the universe: they are in rebellion against Providential order; and by bell, book, and candle, literally or symbolically, we can push them down under.”

Russell Kirk

A faceless hood unfolds from Corbett’s crypt,
and clammy fog fast fills the churchyard lawn.
At witching hour, hours before the dawn,
some specter’s skin-crawl claw creeps in to grip
the throat with fingers like a hangman’s rope.
This ancient power manifest tonight
(malice-made-flesh, perverse incarnate wight)
has come to leach your life and, worse, your hope.
Best pray that Tailor John will too soon chime
his cock-crow toll, his solemn, pealing call;
or incantate the Word — some sacred rhyme
breathed out on quivering, unsure lips is all
you’ll need; or light the feeble, flickering shine
of candle flame to drive away the pall.

H.M.S. Dimnent

Dimnent Memorial Chapel, Hope College – Holland, Michigan

by Josh Bishop

Three stone steps, then through the chapel doors to stairs
ascending down into the hull. There’s ceiling tiles
beneath our feet (black-and-white-checked chess-board squares)
and far above our heads the vaulted roof-ridge keel’s
held high by buttressed ribs. Brilliant stained-glass portholes
cast colored light full bright from some delightful land
on pews where galley bondslaves four times each week row
their oars in common meter to the drums’ command.
On the sternchancel deck, beside the ship’s-wheel pulpit,
the faithful helmsman crouches, steering strong and true
along the Captain’s bearing, guided by the sextant
of the Word. The westward rose-window prow cuts through
the swells to lead our rightwise stone sanctuary
toward the kingdom that has overturned this world.
A watchman chimes eight bells from the crow’s-nest belfry;
the lamps are lit, main and mizzen sails unfurled;
the crew belowdecks gathers at the board to eat
a double portion, strong wine and hardtack rations.
Weigh anchor! We’ve long leagues left in this topsy sea —
keel-up, mast-down — and still the Captain cries, “Sail on.”

Backpacking Somewhere Near Red Bridge

by Josh Bishop

In a coppice of aspen, their trunks silver-white, 
bright beams of splendent sunlight like spearshafts in flight
pierce down through a ceiling of branches. The leaves 
as a yellow-green snow falling soft in the breeze
drift to earth, and they flash as they turn in the sun.
I swear — swear to God! — that the leaves of Lothlorien
pale when compared to this common, anonymous
wood; the Fields of Elysium, set next to this, 
cannot be nearer to heaven; if Avalon
ever had gardens, their beauty’d be counted as none
by any who’ve had the grand fortune to stand in
this spinney. No wonder the ancient pagans 
built altars to worship the gods in these spaces
where numina stoop to ordain common places.

The Bells of Christendom

The bells of Christendom, now long gone,
once rang throughout the West.
Laudo Deum verum, they tolled,
and all who heard were blessed.
They knelled sad news of every death
and lauded every birth
and marked at quarter hours each day
the turning of the earth.

But all the bells of Christendom
are fallen mute and dumb:
Where are the Sabbath summons, now?
The public calls to come
and worship Christ the risen king?
Where, now, their glad refrain?
Where Benedictus Dominus?
Where Oremus proclaim?

The dormant bells of Christendom
wait silent for that day
when the church, like bantys at the dawn,
cock-crows all men awake.
But who will steal to soundless steeples?
Who pull the bellman’s rope?
Where are the men to set the world
a-ring with sounding hope?

Let’s toll one bell for Christendom — 
ring one, at least, again!
Then Tailor Paul will clap his tongue,
and with his full amen
lay low the powers of the air.
He’ll drive the storms away.
He’ll gong the gospel — Christ is won! —
and keep the fiend at bay.

Do you hear the bells of Christendom?
Listen to their knell!
Though still an echo on the wind,
they sound a rising swell
’til, from steeples and from belfries,
their peals will fill the sky.
Yes, we’ll hear the bells of Christendom
resound before we die.

© 2022 Josh Bishop

A Meager Harvest

This hard-hoed soil’s ceding nothing now.
An early frost has taken this year’s crops,
and still the farmer, with unyielding brow,
stone-sets his jaw and bends to tend his plot.

There’s precious little left: a sheaf of wheat,
a single, pale, emaciated gourd.
He gathers what he can (it cannot be
enough) and, slowly rising, turns toward

home, eyes down but shoulders squared. He lifts
his nearly-empty hands and prays with rough
resolve: “We thank you, Lord, for these, Thy gifts,”
and then, again: “Lord, let it be enough.”

© 2022 Josh Bishop

Family Liturgy

The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night
and a perfect end. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer

With curtains in each cloistered bedroom drawn
against the shine of lights that line the streets,
we settle in for compline with a yawn.

Young Oliver is first: he’s blessed with peace;
I sing of peace, too, like a river, then
hold him while he slowly drifts downstream.

Now Jack: A prayer and song, then we begin  
our sacred work of whispered conversation,
rehearsing each day’s joys and pains again.

Both boys receive a matching benediction:
that God would bless and keep them through the night,
that each might live to see his children’s children —

and then a forehead kiss. I dim the lights
and whisper from the hall a hushed “Goodnight.”

© 2021 Josh Bishop

It’s a beautiful day!

Rum-di-tum-hey! It’s a beautiful day!
See the birds taking wing on the breeze!
See the sun stare from high with his solitaire eye
Over meadows and creek beds and trees.

Hey-rumpty-drum! Here the wet west wind comes,
With it stormclouds and soggy-soaked skies. 
Quick! Shelter from harm where it’s cozy and warm,
While the thunderclaps clamor outside.

Rum-dumter-ee! Makes no matter to me!
Whether cloudburst or sun’s shining ray,
I’ve got breath in me lungs, and whatever may comes,
Still I’ll say, ‘It’s a beautiful day!’

© 2020 Josh Bishop

Our home contains the world, these days

A sonnet for the Covid-19 shutdown.

Our home contains the world, these days. Not all
We love, perhaps, but most and dearest-held
Is sheltered safe inside these shabby walls.
We hadn’t noticed how our lives had swelled
Like springtime floods that, everflowing, rise
To overwhelm the riverbanks but won’t
Recede again; our floodplain never dries.
Diversions tugged relentlessly (they don’t
Deserve the time we gave them). Swindled by
False urgency, we’d grasped toward each demand.
Turns out this busied frenzy was a lie;
The only tasks worth doing are at hand. 
This sudden, unexpected ebb has shown
How small, yet rich, our cares should be: our own.

© 2020 Josh Bishop

On a Disappointing Mid-November Snowfall

The year’s first snow should look more like the flakes
in snowglobes or in Hallmark’s Christmas flicks
than this, a dingy slop of wet sleet thick
with slush and gross with leaves that lie unraked
throughout the yard. Their tannins stain the snow
like yellow piss. We’ll have to wait a few 
more weeks — a month, perhaps — before the truly
picturesque snow falls. It will, I know,
because it always has before. And when
it does, the lamppost in our yard will stretch
its charming beams like fingers out to catch
and hold each gently falling snowflake. Then
the snow (at last, a faultless wintry sight!)
will blanket all, like Christ our sins, in white.

© 2019 Josh Bishop

An Unexpected Specter

for Becca

There are no graveyards here that want a ghost,
No clapboard churches crowning far-off hills
Whose stones like granite corn rows stretch almost
To where a slate-cold sky meets soil and chills
Our blood with thoughts of Pilgrim bones laid down
Beneath the frost line, safe from fall’s last fell
And skittish breath, which blows before it browning
Autumn leaves to heap in grave-like dells
Where wait old ghosts on crisp New England nights.
No, here belong no poltergeists to spy
And startle from our peace with sudden frights
We weary, footsore souls who wander by.

Here, instead, spring-turned-summer’s splendent rays
(As far removed from cold Atlantic glooms
As south from north) have long lit tranquil days
Where wildflowers — butter-yellow blooms,
Or lupine blue, like bonnets — dot vast plains
Still somehow green despite the noontime heat.
Those wisps might later swell with evening rains
To water prairie grasses, long like wheat,
But now they simply scuff the sky, too thin
To send their shadows racing by, now slow,
Now fast, spurred on before some sigh of wind
That ripples waves across the fields below.

Yet even here, beneath the shadeless sun’s
Benevolent and gently warming face,
The headless Hessian’s stallion sometimes runs.
Its sudden gallop spooks and puts to chase
Scared choirs of startled songbirds from their trees.
Then, with withered visage grimaced, tight-drawn,
An unexpected specter stoops to seize
With grasping, grapnel hands — and then it’s gone.
The steadfast sun still shines unfazed, still bright,
While we, who half-recall the birdsong, grieve
To hear the fading wingbeats of their flight,
The skittish scratch of browning autumn leaves.

© 2019 Josh Bishop