Jeff Burt – Bells of Sanctuary

Bells of Sanctuary


We pity the plain ugliness of him, Quasimodo,
gargoyle of Notre Dame
……….but if sympathy were to transform into empathy,
what pity would we take on our plain sense of the world,

for he, deaf to sound, heard a music
from the bells of the cathedral so pure,
……….physical, it rippled through his flesh like the scent
from a fragrant flower resonates through every limb and pore.

Quasimodo felt what we cannot hear,
the song inaudible, first and fertile notes
……….of the beginning of everything, creation
out of nothing, formation insistent, capricious and frail.

Lilies of the valley like downturned bells
lift me as if without weight. Spun,
……….dizzied, suspended in realms of the hunchback’s reality,
word-wise, versed in vowel, I open my mouth to utter pleasure—

and yet who can expel that ephemeral
perfume of his enthrallment,
……….or translate with melodious measure
his ecstasy, the sense of abandon and union brought by those bells?

I open my mouth and whatever I say
deforms the song of the lilies
……….whose scent lives on. A student learning
a foreign language, I recite phonetic nonsense.


If only we were birds of the numinous,
sparrows twittering
……….the proverbs of seeds,
caroling bobolinks and orioles, killdeers and larks piping in the fields.

Knowing that beauty awaits,
we would continue to search
……….in the dark forest of the self
for bright meadows of song, we would sit in the dusk solitary and true

if the nightingale’s epic we could sing.
O to share the source of song,
……….world-wisdom in taproot, limb and leaf.
To soar is within. To say, to sing, to draw or to dance, is without.

If we could fuse the particular
phrase which ripples within
……….with structure and form perhaps
we might show no longer the lines of latitude never meeting, but lines

of longitude converging at a common
pole, like a bee sharing
……….the private knowledge of a field of flowers
for all the hive, pollen showering from glittering limbs.

But we cannot present the inaudible song,
and for this we should be happy,
……….for sequestered, codified by a word
and judged by language the song would die,

the unheard music would vanish
in noise. The limitation of speech
……….is our freedom, the loss of profound expression
our gain. Mute with familiarity, we cannot express these:

two friends,
a bright spring day,
……….stars appearing
in the evening sky, or ideas taking shape.

Seeking the sanctuary of silence, I wave
the lilies like a wand about my face,
……….and leave the dance of speech
where all move with two left feet, rough rollicking creatures.

I leave the world in pieces I cannot assemble
to enter the isolation where
……….I feel a music without sound, where, in the first cathedral
of sound, deaf, dumb, we are all Quasimodo delirious with bells.

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California, with his wife and a July abundance of plums.  He has work in Word Soup, phren-z, The Cortland Review, and others, and forthcoming in Clerestory, The Wayfarer, and The Homestead Review.