My daughter sings in snow falling through the scent of red oak or ash, some of the flakes large enough to contain passages from Emily Dickinson’s letters. I’m not close enough to identify the texts. Just a few nouns or verbs—dew, fan, plash, honors—tongue touching on the teeth to sound the dentals, teeth on the bottom lip to form the fricatives, both lips pouting the plosives, the vowels vibrating in the cave of the mouth. If I were Dickinson, my daughter’s song might be the tolling of a shipwrecked church bell; the gist of it, sudden as a bird rowing in, then swallowed by, the firmament. The cold, snowing sky has just gone whiter. Twenty, maybe twenty-five years left, unpolished stones in a glass.
Every time the Pope shooed the beggar from the entrance to the Sacre-Coeur, she slid back into place seconds later, because who is a pope to judge? Even when he kicked her, dragged her away by her shawl, back she came, reliable as two sparrows playing tug of war with the heel of a baguette.
The one I call the Pope, I admit, was really a doorkeeper who aspired to be pope—who, ever since he was a boy, played Infallible with his mates and wore an ecclesiastical-looking collar and red running shoes.
The holier, more golden chambers of the church were under repair and off-limits. Tiers of lit votive candles. Hard to suppress an urge to give them cocktail umbrellas. They shivered like crowds massed before the ticket office for the Catacombs, where kilometers of skulls, humeri, and femurs are stacked in cords, half the skulls turned toward you, half turned away.