The following is series of images taken at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The captions are from Transfiguration, my favorite poem by Mark Jarman.
And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses and they were talking to Jesus. Mark 9:2
They were talking to him about resurrection, about law,
about the suffering ahead.
They were talking as if to remind him who he was and
who they were. He was not
Like his three friends watching a little way off, not like
At the foot of the hill. A gray-green thunderhead massed
from the sea
And God spoke from it and said he was his. They were
About how the body, broken or burned, could live again,
Only the fiery text of the thunderhead could explain it.
And they were talking
About pain and the need for judgement and how he would
A law of pain, both its spirit and its letter in his own flesh,
and then break it,
That is, transcend it. His clothes flared like magnesium,
as they talked.
When we brought our mother to him, we said “Lord,
she falls down the stairs.
She cannot hold her water. In the afternoon she forgets
And he said, “All things are possible to those who believe.
Shave her head,
Insert a silicone tube inside her skull, and run it under
Down her neck, and over her collarbone, and lead it into
And we did and saw that she no longer stumbled or wet
She could remember the morning until the evening came.
And we went our way,
Rejoicing as much as we could, for we had worried many
They were talking to him about heaven, how all forms
there were luciform,
How the leather girdle and the matted hair, how the lice
coursing the skin
And the skin skinned alive, blaze with perfection,
the vibrance of light.
And they were talking about the complexities of blood
Each component crowding the vessels, the body and
And they were talking about the lamp burning in
the skull’s niche,
The eyes drinking light from within and light from
And how simple it is to see the future, if you looked at it
like the past,
And how the present belonged to the flesh and its density
And was hard to talk about. Before and after were easier.
They talked about light.
A man came to him who said he had been blind since
his wedding day
And had never seen his wife under the veil or the children
she had given him.
And the Lord said, “Tell me about your parents.”
And the man talked
A long time, remembering how his mother cut his father’s
meat at dinner,
And how at night their voices crept along his bedroom
But he could not say what they were like. And in
the morning, everything began to tick
And ticked all day as if. . . . Now, he remembered!
And suddenly his sight came back and blinded him, like
They were talking to him about law and how lawgiving
Like rainfall, a light rain falling all morning and mixing
A rain the passes through the spiderweb and penetrates
the dirt clod
Without melting it, a persistent, suffusing shower, soaking
Making sweatshirts heavier, wool stink, and finding every
hair’s root on the scalp.
And that is when you hurled judgement into the crowd
and watched them
Spook like cattle, reached in and stirred the turmoil faster,
And they were saying that, to save the best, many must be
Including the best. And no one was exempt, as they
Not themselves, not him, or anyone he loved, anyone who
Take anyone and plant a change inside them that they feel
And send them to an authority to assess that feeling.
When they are told
That for them alone there waits a suffering in accordance
with the laws
Of their condition, from which they may recover or may not,
Then they know the vortex on the mountaintop, the inside
of the unspeakable,
The speechlessness before the voices begin talking to them,
Talking to prepare them, arm them and disarm them, until
And if anybody’s looking, they will seem transfigured.
I want to believe that he talked back to them, his radiant
And I want to believe he said too much was being asked
and too much promised.
I want to believe that that was why he shone in the eyes
of his friends,
The witnesses looking on, because he spoke for them,
because he loved them
And was embarrassed to learn how he and they were
going to suffer.
I want to believe he resisted at that moment, when he
Because he could not reconcile the contradictions
That love had a finite span and was merely the comfort
of the lost.
I know he must have acceded to his duty, but I want
He was transfigured by resistance, as he listened,
and they talked.