The Parallel Cathedral

Tom Sleigh

 
1
The cathedral being built
around our split level house was so airy, it stretched
so high it was like a cloud of granite
and marble light the house rose up inside.
At the time I didn’t notice masons laying courses
of stone ascending, flying buttresses
pushing back forces that would have crushed our flimsy wooden beams.
But the hammering and singing of the guilds went on
outside my hearing, the lancets’ stained glass
telling how a tree rose up from Jesse’s loins whose
flower was Jesus staring longhaired from our bathroom wall where I
always wanted to ask if this was how he
really looked, slender, neurasthenic, itching for privacy
as the work went on century after century.
2
Fog in cherry trees, deer strapped
to bumpers, fresh snow marked
by dog piss shining frozen in the day made
a parallel cathedral unseen but intuited
by eyes that took it in and went on to the next
thing and the next as if unbuilding
a cathedral was the work
that really mattered—not knocking
it down which was easy—
but taking it apart stone
by stone until all
that’s left is the cathedral’s
outline coming in and out of limbo
in the winter sun.
3
All through childhood on eternal sick day afternoons,
I lived true to my name, piling dominoes
into towers, fingering the white dots like the carpenter Thomas
putting fingertips into the nail-holes of his master’s hands.
A builder and a doubter. Patron saint of all believers
in what’s really there every time you look:
black-scabbed cherry trees unleafed in winter,
the irrigation ditch that overflows at the back
of the house, chainlink of the schoolyard
where frozen footsteps in the snow
criss-cross and doubleback. And now the shroud falls away
and the wound under his nipple seeps fresh blood.
And when Jesus says, Whither I go you know,  
Thomas says, We know not…how can we know the way?
 
Copyright © 2013 by Tom Sleigh. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 12, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Poems by This Author

A Wedding at Cana, Lebanon, 2007 by Tom Sleigh
He said, It is terrible what happens
Blueprint by Tom Sleigh
I had a blueprint
On the Platform by Tom Sleigh
The omen I didn't know I was waiting for
Oracle by Tom Sleigh
Because the burn's unstable, burning too hot
Round by Tom Sleigh
Somebody's alone in his head, somebody's a kid
Space Station by Tom Sleigh
My mother and I and the dog were floating
Stone God and Goddess in an Ark by Tom Sleigh
Out of the stone ark that carried them this far


Further Reading

Poems about Buildings
Architecture Moraine
by Joanna Fuhrman
Block City
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Broadway
by Mark Doty
Cape Coast Castle
by Yusef Komunyakaa
Glass House
by Heather McHugh
Notes on a Visit to Le Tuc D'Audoubert
by Clayton Eshleman
Skyscraper
by Matt Rasmussen
Steps
by Grace Schulman
The Barcelona Inside Me
by Robin Becker
The Starlings
by Jesper Svenbro
Water Picture
by May Swenson
Poems about Memories
A group of girls from Minnesota or black mascara
by Maureen Owen
A Violin at Dusk
by Lizette Woodworth Reese
Beasts
by Carmen Giménez Smith
Father Listens to the Artists
by David Petruzelli
For My Grandmother's Perfume, Norell
by Nickole Brown
forgetting something
by Nick Flynn
Help Me to Salt, Help Me to Sorrow
by Judy Jordan
I shall forget you presently, my dear (Sonnet XI)
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
In the Back Seat of History
by Mary Biddinger
Mississippi: Origins
by Anna Journey
Mnemonic
by Li-Young Lee
Mnemosyne
by Trumbull Stickney
Mural with HUD Housing & School Bus (1980)
by Adrian Matejka
My Grandmother's Love Letters
by Hart Crane
No Ticket
by Jonathan Wells
Piano
by D. H. Lawrence
Remembered Light
by Clark Ashton Smith
Rock Me to Sleep
by Elizabeth Akers Allen
To My Best Friend's Big Sister
by Ross Gay
Poems About the Natural World
A Windflower
by Lizette Woodworth Reese
Amethyst Beads
by Eavan Boland
And the Intrepid Anthurium
by Pura López-Colomé
Atavism
by Elinor Wylie
Austerity
by Janet Loxley Lewis
Belong To
by David Baker
Butterfly Catcher
by Tina Cane
Crossings
by Ravi Shankar
Elders
by Louise Bogan
Escape
by Elinor Wylie
Farewell
by John Clare
February: The Boy Breughel
by Norman Dubie
Field
by Erin Belieu
Fish Fucking
by Michael Blumenthal
For-The-Spirits-Who-Have-Rounded-The-Bend IIVAQSAAT
by dg nanouk okpik
Four Poems for Robin
by Gary Snyder
God's World
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Imaginary June
by C. D. Wright
In a Blue Wood
by Richard Levine
In Michael Robins’s class minus one
by Bob Hicok
Kentucky River Junction
by Wendell Berry
maggie and milly and molly and may
by E. E. Cummings
Making It Up as You Go Along
by Bin Ramke
Monody to the Sound of Zithers
by Kay Boyle
Naskeag
by Alfred Corn
October (section I)
by Louise Glück
Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
by William Wordsworth
Of Many Worlds in This World
by Margaret Cavendish
Pastoral
by Jennifer Chang
Pied Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Poppies on the Wheat
by Helen Hunt Jackson
Prairie Spring
by Willa Cather
Russian Birch
by Nathaniel Bellows
Scandal
by Lola Ridge
Song of Nature
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sonnet
by Bill Knott
Spontaneous Me
by Walt Whitman
Tanka
by Sadakichi Hartmann
The Clouded Morning
by Jones Very
The Darkling Thrush
by Thomas Hardy
The Gladness of Nature
by William Cullen Bryant
The Leaves
by Deborah Digges
The Life So Short...
by Eamon Grennan
The Noble Nature
by Ben Jonson
The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter
by Ezra Pound
The Wind and the Moon
by George Macdonald
There may be chaos still around the world
by George Santayana
Trees
by Joyce Kilmer
Two Butterflies went out at Noon— (533)
by Emily Dickinson
Vantage
by Alan Shapiro
Vision
by Robert Penn Warren
What's the railroad to me?
by Henry David Thoreau
Winter Morning
by William Jay Smith
Work Without Hope
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge