God of concrete, God of steel



A crucifixion:

there, in the concrete.

See? There can’t you see

A broken body on a cross.

And the wind is up:
Clouds gather to the North.

From the north
disaster will be poured out;
From the land between the two seas
and two mountains:
Beth Togarmah and Gomer.

Who knows if the soldiers turned back, seeing the black sky and all.
Jupiter’s fire, or was it Baal, or Momus or 
some menacing Semitic god –
El. Yahweh.

Worse still: perhaps (always perhaps in this godforsaken place!)
perhaps an unknown god
yet to be named in this godforsaken place.

Who knows if the soldiers returned
        the ill-fated Jew’s bloodied tunic?
  never wear a dead man’s clothes they say.
The garment woven from a single thread
like mankind:
without seam from top to bottom
from God to man and man to God.

We’ll put it back
there’s an idea we’ll put it back
where we found it
On the hill of the skull
and perhaps
their god won’t notice
        their thunder god
their volcano god
we’ll l
eave it where we found it
        at the foot of the cross
        (we were just following orders weren’t we?)
A hanged man is cursed by God
Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree
And after all:
this is a tree of sorts

Or is that cross not a cross
but a pylon,
Where cable-thieves burn
and fall like electrocuted Icaruses?
Seraphim staves of the Braamfontein spruit:
Where the green and blue children of Zion drum demons out in Jesus name!

        ecoli baptisms and detritus exorcisms
        to the cry of sacred ibises.

Or is that cross not a cross
but a Moses-staff:
a snake-stick to part the sea or cleave a skull,
A shepherd’s crook

a rod for the back
of a fool,
To turn the rivers red,
to bring plague



I touch the concrete ground,
touch the face of God.
A cold face to kiss:
The Grand Inquisitor’s bloodless, aged lips.

Do I burn Thy heart?

God of concrete, God of steel
God of piston and of wheel 
God of pylon, God of steam
God of girder and of beam

O cold, austere, distant and reproachful Father!
weep not for your children:
        for we weep for You.

Who might I pray to, for Thee?

Is it cold up there,
beyond the narrow gate, in heaven
        beyond the pylons, beyond
        the steam of cooling towers
where the saints enter, clutching narrow truths?

I see only Sainte Marie de La Tourette:
cold, winter light on her concrete body
black rain and rust tears from
neglected wounds. 

To create a whole universe
and after all that – to find oneself alone!
The pity of it!

No wonder you exchanged Your frigid heaven for
Gethsemane, for The Place of the Skull.

And The crowd chanting:

Dust and blood
Dust and blood
     and a cross for the blasphemer!

Pitiless this sun,
and this moon-arc’s thin smile.

Who might I pray to, but Thee?

© Scott Harrison 2018



Below: Geoffrey Clarke  Daedalus

clarke-geoffrey-man-1950 (1)


I have just re-discovered the sculptures of the British sculptor Geoffrey Clarke.
As a boy I had a volume of the Larousse Encyclopedia of Modern Art, and I came to love the little black and white illustrations of the work of artists like Geoffrey Clarke and William Turnbull. I also found in my Larousse pictures of Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, and his brutalist Sainte Marie de La Tourette monastery in France.

Something in these images struck me. A disquiet, a religious stirring when I was just a boy. Looking at these images as a child brought no comfort – the opposite in fact: they disturbed and even frightened me. Yet simultaneously I felt less alone knowing these artists had seen something in the fabric of things that I too had sensed.

What was it?

I first heard the strange Modernist hymn “God of Concrete” at a huge comprehensive school I attended around age 8 or 9 in England in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. I remember being alone in a crowd of bewildered schoolchildren, an icy wind on my legs. The newly built, bleak, modernist school buildings, the smell of freshly laid cement. I remember a feeling of desolation, of feeling lost. Something in the words and the music disturbed me, this hymn about a cold and distant God.

See also:

Exorcising the Fear: British Sculpture from the 50s & 60s

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