After the Fire – a poem by Karen Ulm Rettig

After the fire
     -a reflection on Notre Dame Cathedral
You seemed to grow
from the marrow of Earth, 
bones of limestone rising
in gothic glory to pierce the sky,
built of  rock, but lifted
by faith that could wield 
logic and harness reason in an age 
when ecstasy was still possible.
You withstood the assaults
of time and nature and humankind 
for eight centuries, only to be ignited 
by a present-day spark.
Now your charred walls gaze 
on a wilderness of rubble; 
your ethereal stained-glass light
is boarded-off and common sunshine 
floods your nave through a broken vault;
the cool, rational logic
of your architecture is threatened
by a claw of mangled scaffolding.
Today it is cranes that pierce the sky,
skinny arms hovering 
over a patient on life support,
state-of-the-art machinery nursing 
what modern technology injured. 
Those cutting-edge tools
will clear the rubble and clean the walls, 
repair the roof and reinstall the stained glass,
but they can’t revive
the soaring joy that lifted stones 
into leaping arches and imagined 
that light could be holy. 
The radiant faith that could create 
your hallowed space is near to collapse, 
weakened by rampant reason,
scorched by blazing skepticism,
swaying beneath a claw of doubt.                            

Karen Ulm Rettig has a Fine Arts degree and began writing poetry when in her 30s. She is a member of Cincinnati Writers’ Project and has published one book, titled Finding God: Our Quest for a Deity and the Dragons We Meet On the Way. Find her online at

1 Comment

  1. Beautiful. “weakened by rampant reason.” It is often said the decline in faith started with Descarte (or was legitimised by him); do you agree?


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