Ever since encountering this piece of statue over two years ago, its story has disturbed and fascinated me. It’s a fragment of the intricate statuary ornamenting the exterior of Chartres Cathedral–yes, the big famous one, in France–that somehow ended up in the tiny but spectacular Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona. This life-size, haunting visage is displayed in the chapel foyer, exactly at eye level. Most tourists visiting the chapel want to know about the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture or whether they can book a wedding there. What I want to know is how this chunk of Medieval Gothic found its way to the desert Southwest! None of the clergy or docents I approached knew the history of this piece; one nun I contacted later was able to tell me that it had been knocked from the cathedral’s exterior by shelling during World War I or II, and that the chapel’s founding donor had aquired it through an art dealer in L.A. (I can only imagine the other details of this story that will never be divulged.)
“Head of Christ in granite from Cathedral in Chartres, France” (now in Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona, USA). Photo by Mark Kummer.
I’ve been trying to write a poem about this statue for the past two years. We visited it again this February, and Mark photographed it for me. Its physical disembodiedness, and its historical and geological dislocation, continue to haunt me. Today, still distressed by yesterday’s explosions and amputations, I attemped the poem again using the persona of the statue. I dedicate it to all who experienced a loss, physical or otherwise, of some piece of themselves yesterday.
PRAYER OF THE HEAD OF CHRIST IN GRANITE FROM CATHEDRAL IN CHARTRES, FRANCE AT CHAPEL OF THE HOLY CROSS IN SEDONA, ARIZONA
My Father, whose art is on display
all through this Verde Valley as red-rock buttes
of Coconino Sandstone, into which this chapel
is chiseled, how did I come to this place?
I sense Your Spirit spinning in every crumb
of Sedona dust and in every limestone layer
dyed blood-red by volcanic iron oxides–
but I remember little of the World-War violence
that severed my granite head from my granite body
and, via L.A. art dealer, delivered it, suffering, here.
I hear the nuns and docents point tourists
toward the rain-carved Madonna and Child
You shaped from the viscera of the mountain
above this chapel. They exclaim the likeness
is unmistakable. But I cannot look upward
to see those Permian other selves, my neck
unhinged and my Precambrian countenance
downcast as it is, in my decapitated extremis.
Does Your will erode here though it be done
in Heaven? This day, unblast me; lead me back
to the Cathédrale and give me whatever is left
of my body. From there I will journey to my original
kingdom in the quarry at Berchères-l’Evêque,
to deliver myself to the womb of the earth.