Dickeyville Grotto by Mark Doty

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The priest never used blueprints, but worked all
the many designs out of his head.

Father Wilerus,
transplanted Alsatian,
built around
this plain Wisconsin

redbrick church
a coral-reef en-
crustation–meant,
the brochure says,

to glorify America
and heaven simul-
taneously. Thus:
Mary and Columbus

and the Sacred Heart
equally enthroned
in a fantasia of quartz
and seashells, broken

dishes, stalactites
and stick-shift knobs–
no separation
of nature and art

for Father Wilerus!
He’s built fabulous blooms
–bristling mosaic tiles
bunched into chipped,

permanent roses—
and more glisteny
stuff than I can catalogue,
which seems to he the point:

a spectacle, saints
and Stars and Stripes
billowing in hillocks
of concrete. Stubborn

insistence on rendering
invisibles solid. What’s
more frankly actual
than cement? Surfaced,

here, in pure decor:
even the railings
curlicued with rows
of identical whelks,

even the lampposts
and birdhouses,
and big encrusted urns
wagging with lunar flowers!

A little dizzy,
the world he’s made,
and completely
unapologetic, high

on a hill in Dickeyville
so the wind whips
around like crazy.
A bit pigheaded,

yet full of love
for glitter qua glitter,
sheer materiality;
a bit foolhardy

and yet — sly sparkle —
he’s made matter giddy.
Exactly what he wanted,
I’d guess: the very stones

gone lacy and beaded,
an airy intricacy
of froth and glimmer.
For God? Country?

Lucky man:
his purpose pales
beside the fizzy,
weightless fact of rock.

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