At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, My Mother Told Her Truth
My mother would sometimes take me
to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Saturday afternoons
in the fall, the sky gray and rippled.
We’d sit silently for a few minutes, before rising
to light a candle. She fiddled with the wick
until it stood ready to receive the holy flame,
then placed her hand on top of mine.
Together we’d take a stick and gently draw fire
from another candle and light ours,
amid the whiff of smoke and wax.
I would sometimes ask why we came
to this temple with a man hanging from a cross
when we had an abundance of devas
jostling for devotion in our own home –
Vishnu, Shiva, Lakshmi, Ganesha?
And she would say, The divine is all the same;
Beneath the forms is the One. What Christ and Krishna
pointed to flows like fire through our
pulsing hearts. Eckhart intuited it
and Al-Hallaj died proclaiming it.
It is the oldest of all truths.
She would dab my head with holy water
before we’d walk onto Fifth Avenue, where for years
a wizard of a man drizzled sauerkraut and mustard
on hundreds of hotdogs emerging endlessly
from his cart, which he’d then bundle
in wax paper and serve to his prayerful
customers approaching his cart
under a canted umbrella on the sidewalk.
All the same, my mother would continue to insist
as we walked back to the subway. This is a woman
who saw a man of one religion set a man of another
on fire because he didn’t think it was all the same;
who constantly shrugged off friendly pamphleteers
imploring us to accept the One True Way
so we wouldn’t molder in some made-up hell.
But she glowed with this conviction until the end,
and swore it made her as strong as
the great Atlas heaving up the world
across from the cathedral’s gray spires.
Vikram Masson is a lawyer by training who lives in Richmond, Virginia. His poetry is featured or forthcoming in Amethyst Review, Allegro Poetry Journal, Young Ravens Literary Review, and The American Journal of Poetry.