On Mary’s Day in August
Tonight it visits me again as if for the first time. I am standing on the Pont St. Louis in the early ’70s
with the river beneath while the barges like black swans glide under my feet. The students returning in August, laughing and talking, walk fast around me, puffing smoke and words. In the distance sits Nôtre Dame, her spider legs lit by the rising moon.
Later on I attend a concert to celebrate Mary’s Day in St. Germain Des Prés. Even now in memory, swelling chords intersperse with the soft voices of an a cappella choir. In between, silence is punctured by echoing wooden sounds, seconds before another triumphant peal fills us with thick romantic sweetness. A concert of flowers and stones.
The organist bows at the end, low over the railing high above the pews in the Paris dark, a thin beam of light rimming his head. As he bends, I suddenly remember another organist’s bow, this one in Venice a year to the day, marveling then how far, but not far at all, the earth had traveled in a year’s turning.
Afterward, outside, I feel the happiness of the crowd disappearing into a French summer night already crunched with leaves.
And memory holds the organ’s spent sound and those deep twin bows from someplace distant and high, holds them while I hear the flowers and the stones once more and feel again what it is to be young and alone in Paris, wondering now why this time, after so many turnings, we did not see it coming.
Photo: Nôtre Dame Cathedral, Paris.