Monday, August 8, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Madonna Hill

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?


  1. Oh, Melissa. This poem has surely seeped up from the page, fully formed. It has the air of centuries past about it, of effortless rightness and everything present and Present in it. I confess to an upwelling of feeling whilst reading this since I have seen the Madonna of the Universe from where you sit down at the marsh. Remember? We talked about her, you and I as anchored and a drift in the mist as she was that drizzly day in May. Much love, C xo

  2. Dear Claire, this was one of those poems that seem written in invisible ink and all it needs to come to light is rubbing the page with lemon juice. Yes, I remember that day so very well, and am happy that you recall it and 'my' Madonna with so much feeling. xo

  3. Such a beautiful piece of writing, very evocative.

  4. Thank you, AJ. I appreciate your comment--and your visiting.

  5. Though your poem provided any visual I might want, I did look at her photo. I thought of her turned toward those rooms where her grace and mercy may be needed the most.

  6. Melissa,

    This is such a strong, powerful poem and very real. I enjoyed it very much.

  7. Thanks, Helen. I'm delighted you liked it, and as always, am glad for your comments.

  8. Thanks, "Me'--it means a lot coming from you. xox

  9. Marylinn, dear, I'm glad you found her picture. The original statue was perched on top of one of the hills of Rome, on the roof of the building, and she was sheathed in gold. Four or five years ago, she was blown completely off the building in a windstorm--there's a heartbreaking picture of her serene face resting as though asleep at the base of a big tree--she had lost her breast, her shoulder, arm and the back of her head--so lovely and unbelievable. xo