To the east, the ocean bellowing, silent container ships slice the sky apart
from the horizon, passing Graves’ Light on their way into the knots
of islands in Boston Harbor. Before me, the marsh is waiting: rock pools
full of mercury and zinc, and the salt-fed sea grass, exposed, a violent green.
To the west at some distance and high above Orient Heights towers a shrine
dedicated to the Virgin, built into the top of the hillside. Crenellations of gold,
representing Her crown, surround the entire structure, not just the bronze
and copper six-ton statue rising behind it. She stands barefoot on the globe,
the veil and draperies held in her outstretched arms seem light in her embrace,
as though all she held there might at any minute lift up in the sea breeze.
The sculptor, an Italian Jew saved by monks from the Nazis, modeled her on
the Shroud of Turin, thinking the mother ought to bear a likeness to Her Son,
but I’ve seen her calm features: she could be any Italian peasant girl
except from one side of the wide plaza, looking up, she seems to grieve--
acid rain has tarnished her cheeks with tears--but from the plaza’s other side
she seems suffused with love. How strange she’s turned her back on the sea,
on the city, and reaches out instead to pilgrims and a nursing home run by
the brothers of Don Orione, a twentieth-century Italian saint. They call her
Madonna of the Universe. I think of her feet upon the earth, that somewhere
in the crooked, narrow streets of Boston are a hotel’s tobacco-colored rooms.
Does her heavenly gaze take in what’s left of shredded curtains, bellying out
in the narcotic air like ghostly sails in the crumbling Seaman’s Mission?