The Bathhouse

Harry Clifton

It still exists, the bathhouse
Where the young Augustine washed himself,
But now it is everywhere

And the waters of the spirit
All steam, make wraiths out of men
In Paris, Constantinople,

Mosques and hammam dens
Wherever they are. The pummellings, the rubdowns,
Towelled bodies stretched on slabs,

And tea, in little glasses,
Green and sugared, sweetening the hour
Of deep, corporeal peace.

And to go on from there
Into sainthood, what would be required?
Don’t tell me – supernatural fire

Beyond the melting points
Of the corpulent, in their catechumenate
Of almost-souls,

Their boiling sauna cabinet.
Talking, gossiping, all might be the fathers
Of Augustine, to this very day

Observing, in their sons,
‘The signs of active virility coming to life’,
Delighting in lines of likely descent

As the pre-baptismal waters
Rise around them – human, discredited now
In the centuries of the body.