Magazine | May 6, 2013, Issue

Poetry

AT LA BASILIQUE DU SACRÉ-COEUR DE MONTMARTRE

I looked out on Montmartre and I wept.

So many roofs of straight slate, gray and blue,

the terra-cotta stovepipes all that kept

a hint of warmth and roundness in the view.

I sank against the fencing and I wrote,

pulling down my hat’s stiff, woven brim,

to pry the hemline of my overcoat

from where it had been caught on railing trim.

The simple motions of a simple soul

laboring to breathe at such a height –

ashamed, almost, unable to control

what caused the crowds no trouble at this sight.

We ordinary hordes, aboard this terrace:

musicians, jocks, performing artists, mimes,

so casually overlooking Paris

in covert, patient penance for our crimes.

My overwhelming flood of feeling gone,

I joined the pilgrimage, with drier peers,

lacking that protection from the sun

used nonchalantly to disguise my tears.

Requesting, “S’il vous plait, mais votre chapeau . . .”

a greeting usher smiled, “. . . remove it, please,”

forbidding interruption in the flow

of visitants through clerics on their knees.

Thus we filed — uncovered dust — the dim

interior become my second veil.

The usher passed, I gripped my hat’s bent brim.

We passed medallion images for sale.

The Virgo Pacis missing one wrought square

within the golden gateway to her shrine,

she nonetheless possessed the only prayer

petitioned from those seekers out of line.

We passed much holiness, but I returned,

revisiting the Virgin with her six

white, massive candles, upright and unburned

above the votives with their low, scarred wicks.

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