Monday, January 21, 2013

What Is Held Sacred

This poem , based on the mysterious and lovely face of  Marie-France’sVisage dans les stalles de la Cathédrale d'Auch”, is about lineage, what is there and what is not. The beginning strophe describes a young woman waiting to receive confession in the historic cathedral where she  was baptized. Her mother has confided to her that all children christened in this church will always be blessed. Yet, the narrator reveals that she was never told about being haunted.

As she begins to pray, she suddenly feels compelled to turn around and view one of the stained glass windows. It represents The Resurrection of Lazarus. Within seconds the glow of the saint’s countenance dissolves into the image of female sorrow, a medieval bride whose head is draped with a rosary and whose hair is  coiled in a bun. The lady stays momentarily and fades away. The speaker is puzzled and resumes her prayers. Still, she feels the ghostly presence remains staring at her back, the staircase of her spine which establishes a link between her curious anxiety and that of the revenant.

In the choir, a nun is playing “What Child is this” on the harp. Its melodic strings not only evoke the inquiry of the old Christmas carol but also the question of ancestry concerning the poem’s speaker. She wonders if she is connected to this startling image. If this woman (from The Middle Ages) gave birth to a  daughter whom she relinquished to hide an affair and protect her illegitimate child from shame. Was this girl, centuries removed from the present time, a direct descendant? Has her mother ,even in death, been looking for her child and her child’s progeny? The poem does not answer these questions but infers the speaker is the living successor of this lost daughter whose identity disappeared with secrets and records lost over time. What the poem does establish is that generational bond between women of all ages, the maternal need to love and know one’s children, to sacrifice for and safeguard their future, to atone for mistakes and seek forgiveness.

Lady On A Stained Glass Window

Baptized in this Church
with its carved Madonna
angels and saints
parables and psalms.
my mother said
children would always be blessed.
She said nothing
about haunted.

Wating for the priest,
I kneel. Pray. But If I turn
to view the stained glass
glare intensifies , the glow
of Lazarus dissolves,
into female sorrow.

A rosary of garnets
drapes the girl’s forhead.
her chestnut hair braided
and coiled in a bun
as if it held
some secret strain of DNA.

And though her image fades
I feel she remains,
staring. My spine a staircase
which she ascends
to the present, detecting
some link between her nerves
and mine. Who is she? Who am I?

What child is this?

That ancient song
resounds from the choir
where a nun’s shadow
is seen playing the harp.

What child is this
asleep.... the stringed inquiry
softens, digressing to bellsong
The quickened pulse of candles.

Medieval maiden, bride
and mother --- am I hers
centuries removed
from this time?

Descendant of a daughter
she never knew or nursed—
seized from her lap
and given to the holy sisters
for salvation?

I look toward the window
before confession. She reappears.
Her eyes green, wet
as ivy on the garden wall
clinging to what is there
and what is still growing
beneath the frost, the frail
breath of reticence.

Notes --

(1) The beautiful image  is by French Artist, Marie-France Riviere. More of her beautiful paintings can be seen at her on-line gallery --

(2) The plainsong is conducted by French Benedictine Nuns, a dedication to The Holy Mother.

No comments: