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.
CathedralsMy 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, sleeping. Until they rise. Shaking off a thousand years of brine. Then the bells, the canticles, the Te Deum Rising. Lulling me away. “Goodnight” “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, dripping naked pathetic, 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 pupils. Ascending with song up to the ceiling where the window waits… And then falling, 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 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.