by Chad Heltzel


After the article Discovery in a Cathedral Attic Suggests Birds Are the Best Archivists by Claire Voon

  1. In Russia’s medieval Zvenigorod, drivers cannot see
  2. the Cathedral of the Assumption from the highway;
  3. it is obscured between a mountain and river, and hidden
  4. by heavy rows of firs and spruces, a line of gorges.
  5. The cupola only visible from a distance, its golden cross
  6. emerges just above the horizon. Early architects aimed
  7. to create illusions about the cathedral’s size. They
  8. broke symmetry: pillars were moved, the chancel
  9. and apses broadened, kokoshniks carved around the
  10. dome, intricate masonry built for the frame.
  11. Cathedrals of this age served as records: the birth
  12. of a prince occasioned a new building, military wins led
  13. to a new bell tower. Now for years, a geometry of scaffolding
  14. and netting has lined the perimeter to mend time’s damage.
  15. Art restorers repairing the walls have since found
  16. fragments of prophets and holy leaders concealed beneath
  17. layers of paint on the dome drum’s walls, revealing
  18. scenes from St. John the Baptist’s life. More series of frescos,
  19. mostly likely by painter-saint Andrei Rublev, were unearthed
  20. behind the iconostasis. Most recently, archaeologists
  21. discovered elaborate birds’ nests in the attic. Built within
  22. are letter scraps written in the elaborate calligraphy of tsarinas,
  23. rubles, beak-torn documents, branches, skulls of cats and skulls
  24. of other birds, stamps and fragments of sealing wax.
  25. A discarded nineteenth century candy wrapper illustrates
  26. the sun from a tarot deck. A cigarette carton with images
  27. from a painting. Ration cards from the Stalin era.
  28. An intertwined pastiche of the town: petals of butterfly weed,
  29. dried elephant ear, wafer ash, mineral paint fragments,
  30. weeping honey locust, purple birch, eggshell slivers,
  31. a shard of green glass, spiderwebs, jewels of opar,
  32. yarn cuttings and grass cuttings, pine cones.
  33. Downstairs, an icon, reputed to work miracles—
  34. curing the ill, answering prayers for the sick and weary,
  35. saving the town from enemy raids during the Great Patriotic War.
  36. In this place, Rublev also painted Christ as Saviour. His Christ,
  37. peaceful and impossibly tall, gazes directly into the viewer’s eyes.
  38. From his hair, which has peeled entirely into a ghosted halo,
  39. a decay runs in rivers down his face and into his garment. History
  40. is in the faded brushstrokes, the broken lines and
  41. lost work that remains nevertheless, the natural
  42. and human fragments preserved for posterity in the eaves.
Packingtown Review – Vol.10, Spring 2018

Chad Heltzel's poems and reviews have previously appeared in Cream City Review, Faultline, Hamilton Stone Review, Fifth Wednesday, Konundrum Engine Literary Review, Sarmatian Review, and in Volume 5 of Packingtown Review. Chad currently lives in Chicago and teaches World Literature and College English at UIC College Prep High School.

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