Stone Church

by Alan Shapiro

copyright ©2012 by Alan Shapiro

A space to rise in,
made from what falls,
from the very mass
it’s cleared from,
cut, carved, chiseled,
fluted or curved
into a space
there is no end to
at night when
the stained glass
behind the altar
could be stone too,
obsidian, or basalt,
for all the light there is.

At night, high
over the tiny
galaxy of cancles
guttering down
into dark chapels
all along the nave,
there’s greater
gravity inside the
the grace that’s risen
highest into rib
vaults and flying
buttresses, where
each stone is another
stone’s resistance to
the heaven far
beneath it, that
with all its might
it yearns for, down
in the very soul
of earth where it’s said
that stone is forever
falling into light
that burns as it rises,
cooling, into stone.

Notes on the Poem

As we remarked on with his poem "Hotel Lobby", Alan Shapiro's "Stone Church" is also part of a collection entitled "Night of the Republic" in which the poems explore normally busy places when they are unoccupied. The judges' citation for this Griffin Poetry Prize 2013 shortlisted work describes how "Shapiro’s unwavering gaze fixes on vacant public spaces at night ... and finds in those absences a way to read the marks of human presence ..." Shapiro frames this poem with distinct sensations of rising and falling, at the outset: "A space to rise in, made from what falls" and at the end of the poem: "that stone is forever falling into light that burns as it rises, cooling, into stone." Those sensations can pertain as much to the examining the architectural origins of the structure as its spiritual underpinning. Intriguing, the slim columnar layout of the poem on the page seems to reinforce these sensations, encouraging the eye to run up and down - to rise and fall - over the length of the poem. In another recent Poem of the Week, "When Eyes Are on Me" by Yusef Komunyakaa, we observed the length of a poem's lines can influence various impressions we have of the poem - pace, tone, breath and more. The Poetry Archive discussion of poem lines focuses on how line length affects how the poem is read ... but in Shapiro's poem, the line length effect is arguably more visual. Is it possible he's subtly incorporating concepts of concrete poetry in this poem? As this definition explains and illustrates it, "concrete poetry is a form of verse in which words or lines are arranged to create a physical image. This is achieved when the poet uses word spacing, line length, page orientation, or other physical elements of writing (typography) to reflect or comment on the poem's subject or theme." What do you think?

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