Sunday, 7 July 2019

Notre Dame—Song to Our Mother

by Lisa Marguerite Mora

On the night of April 15, 2019 Parisians gathered to see their ancient cathedral Notre Dame ablaze. As I along with billions of people around the world watched the iconic symbol of art, faith, and Western Civilization darken with smoke and flame, feelings of horror, immense sadness, and oddly, wonder rose and roiled within me. An architectural magnificence that had withstood eight hundred and fifty years of history was slowly succumbing to heat and flame. News reports were predicting its total demise. But I didn't believe it. And as the smoldering stone visage of the cathedral illuminated against the night sky, I watched myriad people from all walks of life, young and old, man and woman, stand together and break into song. Beautiful song. Overlapping and layering song. Women's sopranos, altos, and vibrating beneath their ethereal voices, men’s baritones rang, punctuating the beauty of this human response.  Some of them were crying, holding each other. But everyone was singing. Ave Maria.

It will not fall, I thought. It yet may stand.

And so it has. The oak timbers from 12th and 13th century trees that were larger than anything that exists in France now, are cinders. But the doors remain, the organ with its eight thousand pipes, the three rose windows dating back to the 13th century seem at this writing to be intact, the bells apparently will still ring and many artifacts and works of art were saved and will be restored. Despite, the ongoing deluge of water to fight the flames, while the cathedral fire itself was extinguished, inside candles previously lit by visitors still burned and glowed in the smoke filled dark, intact.

A day later as I write this, I seek to process these images of destruction of an ancient and beloved structure, of how Paris, dear Paris, has rallied yet again and of how the world opens its heart in grief and confusion, reaching out in the way humans have done for millennia, creatively and spontaneously. Unable to help ourselves.

Life is short for everyone. Even a hundred years
is not enough. Not even a millennium.

We drift toward another ice age
while Notre Dame burns, its fiery spire falls

fragile as a spent matchstick.
My breath comes short. So much left to be said

and done. But we are constantly told we have done it
all wrong. If only this, or I'd not said that. If only I'd known.

Yet. We know. When it comes down to it, within the bones,
and the heart, a song forms, ancient memory rides into the chill

night air. We know what to do. We've always known what to do.
Stronger together in creation and love. It is spirit that moves us

and spirit that will find its vehicle. Whatever way we are led
how breath forms words, that convey and instruct, executes ideas

we stretch our limbs, our fingers, our minds. We are held by love
when there is nothing else, for it never dies. Timber burns,

stones heat and char, continents freeze, our bodies sink back to ground
but love burns higher and brighter

than any arsonist's intention or the fear behind it. Inside we know
who we are. If we listen now in the face of loss 

we catch the subtle notes beneath
of harmony.

* * * * *

"Notre Dame—Song to Our Mother" was previously published on Rebelle Society

Lisa Marguerite Mora has had work published and forthcoming in Rattle, ONTHEBUS, Rebelle Society, The Urban Howl, Cultural Weekly, Public Poetry Series, Literary Mama, and California Quarterly, among many others. She has been featured in Cultural Weekly and The Venice Beachhead and in Blue Mountain Arts with a Poetry Prize. In 2017 she tied First Place for Dandelion Press Micro Fiction Contest which features the fine art of Lori Preusch. Her first novel is being read by agents and she is at work on a second. Lisa studied with author Carolyn See at UCLA where she received a Bachelors in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis. A story editor and consultant, she also conducts creative writing workshops in the Los Angeles area. You can find her at Her blog is


  1. "We are held by love." Beautiful.

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