Six years ago at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, I was standing under sculptor, Xu Bing’s, two Phoenixes. The cathedral is huge and beautiful and so were the artist’s sculptures. Our friend, Bill, who is a warm, personable, and very knowledgeable docent at the cathedral had suggested to my wife and me that we should see the Phoenix exhibit, and he was right. Standing in the nave under Xu Bing’s creatures I was awed. While Bill, his wife, and mine went on ahead I lingered until Bill walked back, smiled, and asked, “Are you having religious experience?” As I recall I said, “I don’t know— maybe.” The fact was, the beauty Xu Bing had created with his assemblage of common, industrial materials, all in flight in that still, immense, gothic space was stunning. The poem came a couple of days later.
Xu Bing’s Phoenixes At The Cathedral Of St. John The Divine
standing under Phoenix and his lofted bride
both newly risen in the nave of a church
at a quarter of the height from floor to vault
—I am small and still beneath their static glide.
a cross in the distance where they might have perched,
is centered on choirs set on either side
as simple as the nexus of sinners’ faults
at the crux of the moment their songs might rise.
these ninety foot creatures made of sweat and steel
and of light and of industry and touch and feel
and of hoses and spades and of wire and sight
and of chain and of pipes and of silent nights
and of canisters pulleys ducts and vents
and of reason for rebirth to where innocence went
and of hope and contrition and of blood and bone
all Phoenixes together here un-alone