On 3 January 1857, Monseigneur Marie-Dominique-Auguste Sibour, the Archbishop of Paris, was assassinated by a priest, Jean-Louis Verger, at the church of St Etienne-du-Mont. The assassin opposed the recent promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
Causality: watch the hanged man
bungee-sucked out the trap
door, defrothed lungs recuse
his accusers. Watch the intricate
dual perseverance of an arachnid
unskein its web like the map
of defeated terrain, its cellmate
the felon-priest’s beard ooze
back into his pores, news
of his reprieve grow more than
likely, hope thicken.
The printed glee of evangelicals
waxes steganographic, disappearing
right to left a domestic crime…
schadenfreude in proleptic time.
Jesuits (who have by the testicles
organs of the press that sublime
the murder with Mary-fearing
shouts of ‘Hell’s searing
testimony!’) are dumb-stricken.
Feel the gavel-echo
thrum backward into inert wood
as sparkish potential; Verger
swallows his calm line, ‘Not he,
but in his person, the mystery,
so-called’; then brawny rude
arms draw him up, the clerestory
and transepts rearing, the surge
of spluttered clergy
blood spigotted, an El Greco
lurid perturbation of colour.
The poignard unsheathes
from the archbishop’s neck,
Verger’s howl ‘No goddesses!’
shrivels in crystal Parisian air.
Hurtling, roughshod, further
back, beyond Verger’s dreck
of pamphleteering, before
liberal Sibour confesses
a Roman change of heart, blesses
the dogma; back riding wreathes
of duration, past Scotus, curving
piety with pin-precise forensics;
on, into eye-biting Cappadocian
sands, crabby Nazianen;
his prokathartheisa showing
Mary pre-purified by the Passion.
Was it divine eugenics,
Calvinist plot, when God annexes
the Virgin from common sin?
Does the Almighty retina hold one
Verger’s thrust, Mary’s conception?
Aves pelt in hailstorm,
a maddeningly counter moment
as the harrow’s thrown back, forenent
its own soil, trammelling the circumscribing worm.
2. Notre Dame de La Salette
‘I do not sense any attraction to an Immaculate Conception crowned with roses, white and blue, in sweet-smelling music and perfume… [I am] too soiled, too far from innocence, too much the neighbour of stinking goats, too needy of pardon…
Léon Bloy, ‘She Who Weeps’ (1908)
She was last seen raving,
tearing out her Byzantine eyes.
The souped-up muscle cars
purr on vacant lots;
boule-clinking old men of Auvergne
every man Jacques ‘veterans
of the Resistance’ swear
Marianne’s gone to the dogs:
‘The men of France would not have betrayed Him.
The men of Lorraine would not have betrayed Him,’
and all the world will come to La Salette.
1901: imagine lovers;
the girl out of Ukraine’s shtetls
the boy, a scion of laic France
tearing bread for the mad lion
in the Jardin des Plantes
among fearsome new
perambulators and nannies.
Absurd, absurd comedy –
their death pact wasn’t cold
or lost on the poison-mouthed
plants before she,
Medusa of Innocence,
swore she’d lead them on
to her polar stare.
Present. Rosh Hashanah,
Rue Manin: brisk long
-skirted Jewish girls lace arms
in sisterly conspiracy. She was
one of them. Dread widow,
she knows too well now
the centuries’ burl, her own
stone cathedral of a heart.
Bleeding, hysterical, drunk
on mystery, she barracks
a young flic – Christ, the spit
of that centurion! – whose pity’s
a warning to walk the other way.