Touch, Stonesafter the 14th century French cloister, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Pale and implacable, they hold the chill and damp.
Once, they must have grown green beards in their cracks and shadows.
First shaped by hands and chisels of masons into these pointed trefoil arches,
aiming like spears eternally upward, daggered clovers repeating,
echoing themselves, echoing the trinity,
threefold nature of Christ: prophet, priest, king.
But only men dwelt here. How the vibrations of chapel bells yet lives,
tolling the hours, calling brothers to labor, to worship, to study;
how their hands must have trailed, wearing smooth these ledges,
hands that held quills, spread vellum pages, planted leeks and cabbage,
folded linen underthings, kneaded bread, donned cowl and tunic.
No floor remains, but their stones, too,
must have known the scratch and whisper of wool robes,
must have known the pace of shoe leather, the brush of twig brooms.
It must have known the drift of rushes, the track of mud,
the snail’s slime, the drip of candlewax,
and hare’s blood fresh from the hunt.
It must have known the touch of starshine
as brothers discussed the movement of celestial bodies.
It must have known the penitential knees, the angle of humility,
tonsured heads bowed beneath the wood-shingled roof,
beneath rafters where wasps and swallows and bats must have roosted.
These stones that must have borne witness to men
crying out for touch, its only comfort to be their shelter,
container for an entire world, a container into which God was poured.
What hymns have they absorbed, how many matins, lauds, vespers?
How many voices and how many breaths, even as it sought to model
the type of silence they aspired to?
I wonder if the monks could have imagined
the passage of seven centuries
bringing the boundaries of their microcosm
an ocean and half a continent away,
where it knows only the touch
of museum patrons’ gazes,
of modern hands unaccustomed to their brand of toil.
But here, in the dim gallery, it achieves
a different type of awe, a different type of communion.
Lauren Scharhag (she/her) is an associate editor for GLEAM: Journal of the Cadralor, and the author of thirteen books, including Requiem for a Robot Dog (Cajun Mutt Press) and Languages, First and Last (Cyberwit Press). Her work has appeared in over 150 literary venues around the world. Recent honors include the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Prize and multiple Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominations. She lives in Kansas City, MO. Twitter/Instagram: @laurenscharhag
Banner Art: Untitled. Cathy Daley (c) (2021)