A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure.
________—Philip Larkin, “Church Going”
In spite of fundamentalists, it keeps on being
true, what Larkin said. I’m walking through
with my Jewish daughter and her three boys,
the stone and glass saying not a word to make
any of us believe, but I’m seeing the church
I grew up with, shadowed like this to let
the glitter in. Dignity’s what held me
then and almost makes a Christian of me
now, again: God multiplying as he
enters through the glass, amusing himself.
We trace the transept, nave, and choir, walking
the sign of the cross, even the boys, who don’t know
what it means. We lift our eyes to the clerestory
a hundred thousand workers gave their backs
to put there, to feed their families, and only
slightly, if at all, I’d guess, to honor God.
The stones went up. The wheel that pulled each one
to greater heights was raised again, and left
up there at last, too high to bring it down,
the mind that glorious in its space, mathematical
in its hopes. It’s brought us here. The five of us
walk plaque to plaque, to each candle-lit niche
for each dead saint. A prayer, I think, is the least
I can do: I pray to Larkin’s poem, to gargoyle
waterspouts, to all the things that jut,
that disagree, disrupt. I pray to buttresses
that launch off wildly from the side and land.
May they brace everything up. And to these boys,
puzzling at the frieze of all the damned in hell.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.