Ryan Norman

Ryan Norman

Human Light

we make God, and speak in his voice – Seán Hewitt 

Hornets are chewing on a crucifix, carrying the mulch in their mouths 
to their nest, spreading it against the papery walls 

the way I pretended to shake before the Lord 
that night I stood in a big top tent, 

surrounded by bodies that swayed 
like wheat, a priest’s arms raised above us all, 

the drums and song of a Christian band blowing over us 
in a breeze. 

That year, I was desperate to belong, so I imagined a light 
leaking out from my heart to my limbs, stood quivering into the prayers 

until those around me placed their hands on my skin 
and the lie moved between us like blood. 


the day I almost died the hotel room was a mess

my brothers’ holiday clothes were strewn about like wreckage 

I sat in it all while my body inflamed from peanuts in the cake

hives covered my skin like the work of many wasps 

my throat a clenching fist

death as final as a wall


A girl, half my size, once propped me up
after my ankle snapped. This stranger, she walked with me, 

stopping at every bench and post, until finally 
the pain groped 

like a vine. She knelt down in the middle of Oxford Street, 
grasped my calf, closed her eyes and murmured.


the moment I almost died I thought of nothing but myself 

my mum sprinting to the hotel desk for an ambulance was very much a separate person

sitting there dying among the towels the world went silent and hard

I was alone but in no way lonely 

like a flower in concrete

I didn’t think of hell 


As she prayed, God, 
I looked up for you and felt hollow. The girl wouldn’t have wanted this, 
but it was the kindness of her hands on my leg, 

not the thought of your moving between us, 
that scattered a real light out 
through my ribs. 


how many cowards have been convinced they’ve gone to hell 

I heard of one who during his twelve minutes of death claimed to have woken in a very dark room 

woken with the feeling of being surrounded by chained bodies in the cold air 

I always thought the fear of this room would return to me as I died

but all I could look at was my face in the hotel room mirror

swollen choking and mine 


I once told a girl that I spend hours in the gym for myself, 
not for her. I think I was right and wrong;
my body is my own, 

but it should exist in relation to another, 
like the glowing heads of just two deep sea fish 
in the black. 


I never saw the girl who prayed for my ankle again. She was tiny;
when she propped me up, I could feel her body trembling under my weight.

There was a togetherness between us. I think of what she did so often.
It was what a God would want her to do. My mum told me she has faith

because of the idea that no sin can push her out of God’s love; there’s nothing
she could do to make him stop loving her. She loves me

in spite of the plates I flung from the table. Perhaps absence is the reality,
like a child gliding on a bike, unaware the father’s hand is gone. 


I think I was wrong, when I said I pretended to shake before God 
as we worshipped in the big top tent. There was definitely an element of pretence, but also 

of blending: I remember every person around me becoming part 
of a moment. The light and song held us together 

in our faith, solidifying us 
in golden air.


Every year I slept through the Easter sunrise service. Mum would return 
with photos of mist among trees, lit by the dawn 
like scorched breath. 


sometimes I feel a presence in the rain or below my skin 

I bite back at my friends’ easy hatred of preachers on the street

I know the warmth in the coffee cups distributed at my mum’s church 

in their rich tea biscuits and knot of cables on the stage

how Sunday mornings glowed like a torch for them 

I know how cold were the houses they returned to 

I remember visiting a friend’s when I was very young 

in their hallway was a framed photograph of their garden fence at night 

light was moving like water on that fence with no apparent source

I can’t remember the story exactly but they told me it was God 

I can see now that the photo itself was light for them 

I can feel now the photo becoming light for me 

perhaps all that matters is that we have these miracles to kindle our chests

perhaps it’s us perhaps it’s God I don’t know all that matters is that there is light

RYAN NORMAN is a poet from Hull. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rialto, Poetry Wales, Poetry Salzburg Review and elsewhere. In 2019 he received an MA in Creative Writing Poetry from UEA. He lives in London.