This gothic cathedral was once a spiritual home.
Priests dabbed foreheads with holy water and
incense wafted to high ceilings and
parishioners chewed on wafers and said:
“Peace be with you.”
That was before tent cities spread under the bridge
and people wandered the streets at night,
sleeping in dirty blankets: when you saw them
in daylight, you saw sores ooze on arms and legs,
vacant eyes, gaunt faces, looking sad, like they
were between this world and the next:
We found them frozen on winter mornings,
their lips a chalky blue and their eyes wide with fright.
The cathedral crumbled and stained-glass shattered;
squatters lived there and lit fires in trash cans:
orange light glowed onto the streets at night;
we knew they shot dope and we’d see them emerge
into the dark like skeletons on Hollow’s Eve with
shirts dangling over bony shoulders: they’d walk to
the bodega and buy cigarettes with dimes and nickels,
count them slowly as cashiers glared behind glass.
We remembered the cathedral from decades ago
and we thought of light and darkness, saints and sinners:
we thought of Jesus watching the weathered faces,
huddled in the cold and hastening their demise,
some dying in the pews, and we thought God surely
forgave them and, if Jesus walked, maybe they would’ve
become his apostles.
Police came and cleared the cathedral and we saw
broken needles scattered, and cameramen recorded the scene
and someone at the newspaper won an award;
we saw the pictures of inside the church
and we thought about decades ago:
how it was sacred space, but it was still sacred now,
but instead of Spirit conquering flesh,
flesh conquered dying Spirit, and we kept staring
at the fading light of the late afternoon as the city
spun so fast and swallowed us whole.