“Cathedrals” a poem by Emma Hoffman ’16


Claude Monet – Rouen Cathedral Facade (Sunset)

This poem by Emma Hoffman ’16 was published in the Fall 2015 issue of The Louisville Review.  The piece, begun as a personal essay and distilled into a poem, is based on the poet’s personal experiences and on the Cathedral of Ys, a Breton myth. Emma’s work has also appeared on the Five Quarterly blog, “Almost 5Q,” and the international literary magazine for young writers, Polyphony H.S.






My father told me
about a cathedral 
beneath the sea, 
the saints drowning, 
the choristers swallowing salt,  
the priest suspended in the swell 
his sermon silenced by sand.
Saints, effigies, kings 
fathoms upon fathoms deep,
Until they rise.  
Shaking off a thousand years
of brine.
Then the bells, 
the canticles, 
the Te Deum
Lulling me away.  
“Sleep well” 
“Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”  
He closes the door.
            * * *

I’m turning the
radio dial when
he asks
me about St. Paul’s, 
and I think about 
that feeling when you 
emerge from a shower, 
shivering despite the 
steam rising behind you
Until it dissipates  
into the nave, 
drowns in exaltations, 
seals cracks of marble
glides up with the incense.
My mouth struggles 
to inhale the spirit 
that swirls through the air
pulses off the walls,
My eyes strain
light stabbing at my
Ascending with song
up to the ceiling where 
the window waits…
And then
a tap on the back 
of my shoulder, 
and I must go
because the
group has found 
me and I need 
to arrive at Piccadilly 
by six. 
Part amused
part aghast, 
my father asks if Jesus has found me. 
I say no.  
He heaves relief, 
and sends me off to sleep. 
This entry was posted in Poetry and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to “Cathedrals” a poem by Emma Hoffman ’16

  1. elapadula says:

    This poem made me go back and listen to the wonderful Joanna Newsom album “Ys” from 2006. The first song, “Emily,” would go well with this poem, I think. I absolutely love and appreciate the first section of this poem—the rising of the voices from the sea like the rising of consciousness, an assonance.