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Cathedral

I was young, the first time.
The windows were dark, and high,
stained sapphire and vermillion.
I was in the basement of my self, at the same time I
was in the crossbeams and the vaulted ceilings.
I was higher than that, and infinite,
unfinished and soaring. 
I hadn’t thought it could happen to me,
dark snakes in the blood uncoiling,
loosening joints from their locked hinges,
and then the painful creaking open
to make way for the new thing.

Notre Dame Cathedral
took a hundred and eighty-eight years to build.
Generations later, hear them singing,
grandfather, father, son,
all laboring over the same pile of stone,
sustained by bread and beer,
and visions of the world to come.

Love labors patiently, they say,
for years: burns in the hurricane,
does not need the shelter
of words, is most at home
in gesture, curled like a young
green leaf or stretched out softly
body to body, planted in earth
like herbs gone haywire,
long-legged as ragged lavender,
saved like seeds from heirloom tomatoes,
carefully placed--even its mistakes
make sense.  The sword
that strikes me daily is never to see
the end of what we’re working on, 
just as I sit here dumbly,
staring at the small black keys,
wanting to make something out of all these days
which pass and pile up; so many drifted leaves,
so many openings into Paradise.


Alison Luterman has published two award-winning books of poetry: The Largest Possible Life (Cleveland State University Press) and See How We Almost Fly (Pearl Editions). She teaches creative writing through The Writing Salon in Berkeley, California, and lives in Oakland with her husband and two cats in a rambling old house which they are perpetually struggling to keep warm. Her website is alisonluterman.com.

Photo: Notre Dame cathedral, Paris. Provided by the Brooklyn Museum.