Notre Dame de Paris burned today,
France’s cathedral, the world’s cathedral,
A place of the soul, the heart, my heart
Burning with the toppling spire,
And now-charred altar.
Parisians sang hymns
As ferocious flames
Flew embers of what had been
Across the City of Light,
Nearly extinguished tonight.
I was in Notre Dame de Paris
On a January Sunday—
The 2nd, according to my journal—
Forty-seven years ago;
The organ’s melodies and harmonies
Billowed into the vaulted roof,
Through the rose windows,
Along the flying buttresses,
Into the Paris evening,
And then a priest chanted Mass.
I was twenty-two that evening
And had craved French and France
At least since I’d been nine,
And there I was:
Paris and her cathedral
Welcomed me to a world
Where desires turned into possibilities,
And then became true.
I wrote in my journal that 2 janvier 1972,
“C’est les fois comme ceci quand je voudrais être catholique.”
And this week I will turn Catholic,
Five days after Notre Dame has burned.
Perhaps from a city, a world, of prayers,
The walls and towers of our cathedral
I hear the organ has been saved,
And some of the art,
Perhaps a rose window;
Already hope has returned:
Notre Dame de Paris
Will one day again be whole,
Not as it was,
But remembered, honored,
I, too, am not as I was,
But I carry my weeks in Paris,
My visit in Notre Dame,
Within me as I make my way,
Burned and illuminated,
Just as the first flames ate into the spire,
I finished my turn as the day’s leader
For our French literature class
Of lifelong learners whose love
For the language and culture
Lighting our aging lives.
And above my bureau
Hangs my father’s drawing
Of Notre Dame de Paris
Beyond the Pont Neuf.