“The Masque of Bread” by George Mackay Brown


What answer would he give, now he had reached
The inquisitor’s door, down seventy hungry streets,
Each poorer than the last, the last a slum
Rambling like nightmare round his winter feet?

The Inquisitor’s door ? The walls were all blank there,
But a white bakehouse with a little arch
And a creaking sign..Against the fragrant doorpost
He clung, like drifted snow, while the shuttered oven
Opened on hills of harvest sun and corn.

The loaf the bakers laid on the long shelf
was bearded, thewed, goldcrusted like a god.
Each drew a mask over his gentle eyes
-Masks of the wolf, the boar, the hawk, the reaper-
And in mock passion clawed the bread.

But he
Who stood between the cold plough and the embers
In the door of death, knew that this masquerade
Was a pure seeking past a storm of symbols,
The millwheel, sun, and scythe, and ox and harrow,
Station by station to that simple act
Of terror or love, that broke the hill apart.
But what stood there – an Angel with a sword
Or Grinning Rags – astride the kindled seed ?

He knelt in the doorway. Still no question came
And still he knew no answer.

The bread lay broken,
Fragmented light and song.

When the first steeple
Shook out petals of morning, long bright robes
Circled in order round the man that died. 

 From Interrogation of Silence, the Writings of George Mackay Brown Eds, Rowena Murray & Brian Murray, John Murray Publications 2004.


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