Breaking the Rule

Julia Copus

I. The Art of Illumination


At times it is a good life, with the evening sun

gilding the abbey tower, the brook's cold waters



sliding past and every hour in my Book

a blank page, vellum pumice-stoned


to chalky lustres which my inks suffuse:

saffron and sandarach and dragon's blood,


azure and verdigris. Monsters and every type of beast

curl round the words. Each man here has a past,


and each man reasons for his faith. I wronged

a woman once and nothing I did after could atone


or throw a light upon the blackness of that deed,

whose harm lay in the telling, not the doing.


My floor is strewn with thyme and rosemary

to mask the odours of my craft - fish glue,


gum resins, vinegar and oils. With these I shape

the hosts of the redeemed, and every face


takes on the features of a face I've known

and every angel's face beneath the shadow


of its many coloured wings is hers alone.


II. The Art of Signing


There are ways among the stone and shadow

of our cloisters to transgress the Rule. We speak


in signs: a language with no syntax.

For the sign of bread you make a circle


with your thumbs and index fingers - like a belt

that presses silk against a woman's waist.


For the sign of an eel squeeze each hand tight

as one who grasps a cord of hair to kiss


that one mouth only in the frantic din

of the ale-house where we used to dance,


and later outside with the grainy dusk

unloading a sough of foot-falls in my ear,


our four feet shuffling together

and in time across the quiet earth.


The rhythm of my days goes slower now:

matins and lauds, vespers and compline.


For the sign of silence put a finger

to the dry muscle of your mouth,


the darkness that's inside it. Keep it there