The Cooked Slice of Bread

A convent parlour with a floor
Of shining boards and a glass garden door,
A wide ring of slippery chairs,
Saints on the wall – a young saint with a skull,
An old saint thin with prayers –
Sea-shells upon mats of coloured wool;

An oval table set with bread
And wine the colour of foxglove And
little vases,
Such as children dress their altars with in May;
In these I poured the wine,
But why did he who got the first vase shove
His vase away?
I stopped pouring the wine;
And then as if a rain-cloud spoke he said,
‘You’ve given me a crooked slice of bread.’

I turned and found a loaf so stale and dried
‘Twas hard as sandstone, and a knife
As thin and waving as a blade of grass;
And then while centuries seemed to pass
All things had faded but the task I tried.

Do I in some less palpable life
That slides along one side of this
(Using the force and strength I miss
In this life here) work hard instead
To cut that straight smooth even slice of bread?