The Archbishops at the Lido – Christopher James

The George Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition
2019 Crabbe Memorial Competition – First Prize
Adjudicator: Tiffany Atkinson

Along croziers of sunlight, the archbishops
swim lengths of Jesus Green Lido.
Behind the trees, along the Cam,
the river’s mirror is a font, brimming with sky:
a hundred yards of holy water.
By butterfly, Robert Runcie has reached
the peppermint stripes of the basket room.
Just ahead, Thomas Cranmer executes
a front crawl, as languid as a sinner to confession.
Boniface of Savoy is spotted in Speedos.

This is still early, when the only sounds
are muttered matins, tumble turns
and the flight of a single bird from a branch.
Through the mist, Charles Longley floats
on his back, writing his sermon on a cloud.
George Carey has knotted his cassock
and is slowly inflating it as a life saving device.
He wears a tattoo of the double helix
on one shoulder and an ichthys on the other.
Selling tickets, Thomas Becket sits at the turnstile.

He sips tea and re­reads the short stories
of John Cheever. He has the patience of a saint.
He counts in the early sixteenth century bishops
who wear nose pegs and synchronise
in a flamingo continuous spin. Meanwhile in Latin,
Rowan Williams gently scolds a pair of pigeons
sipping at the shallows. Justin Welby patrols
the water’s edge in black shorts and plimsolls.
A lifebelt in hand, he leaves footprints in sunlight,
and counts the hours until it is his turn to swim.

Copyright © 2019 Christopher James

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