I highly recommend going about 2/3 of the way down this man’s website. His incredible sketches of Israel, and the Holy Sepulcre in particular might help illuminate this poem.
Constantine knew, of course, just what he wanted:
smooth verticals and marble, crushed glass rolled underfoot,
room for archangels with their orbs and wands,
space for cool power to stroll, relaxed and heavy-footed
Out to the little scented hedges, under a cross that shimmers,
silver and rubies, soft shadows lapping at the ankles.
He cut and smoothed, levelled and piled and spread:
light; crystal; breezy veils; a new, enlightened holy hill.
History (or something) disagreed. The centuries squared up,
exchanged curt, recognizing nods, moved in,
folded and packed, crumpled and stripped and boxed:
the shadows shook themselves, lurched up and smiled
From a new height; people found other things
to do with silver. Air from the marble lungs
is punched out, and the colonnades are crushed and processed
into a maze of ditches, damp stone capsules,
Whorls, cavities, corners with don’t-ask smells
and fairground decoration. A collapsing star, screwing its stuff
into the dark: soaring heat, density, a funnel
spinning towards the opposite of anything.
* * *
Saturday afternoon, the bodies squashed, wet, boxed,
breathing into the shadows full of smells and tinsel;
flame leaks and spits out of the singularity,
sparks a cracked bell. Iron, rope, smoke
Pant in the tight dark, a light-footed,
high-strung passing. Afterwards we breathe,
dry off the sweat and crying, ask what history
is after, bullying us into walking, into this oppositeness.
The Poems of Rowan Williams, Eerdman’s 2002