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NER DIGITAL | La Sagrada Familia: Spires | Alexandra Teague

Categories: Confluences, NER Digital


SagradaFamiliaMy husband, his parents, and I stand at the top of La Sagrada Familia, spires spiking and tilting around us like great stone ocean waves, as if we are on the crow’s nest of a ship that is simultaneously pitching into sky and sinking. I’m usually scared of heights, but up here, even fear is under construction. After a century, only eight of the eighteen spires. After a century, the first stones of the Glory Façade: its roads to God and Hell both equally unbuilt.

After a decade, my husband still sleeping nightly on a pillowcase speckled with blood from his brother’s death, still angry at his father for, in the hours immediately after, disassembling his brother’s cage of finches, giving them all to somewhere. The sky. The ground. The noise his brother made gurgling blood into tubes because he had AIDS and no one had yet drawn the plans for pills to save him.

Gaudi wanted the Passion Façade to strike the onlooker with fear, the guidebook tells us. We are supposed to feel Christ’s sacrifice, to believe in death with high purpose. Forgiveness. But nothing is finished. The spire for Mary isn’t started yet; her body only more air.

My husband believed—does he still believe?—he would betray his brother’s life if he let grief go. He carried what he had—the fading stain on a pillowcase, the space where finches once rustled in the corner of a California apartment—like stone for a medieval cathedral. That blood:  brown into blue into white. He hated the inevitable washing. “Color is life,” Gaudi said. Also:  “My client is not in a hurry.”

Everything is possible in God’s time, but nothing is for sure, an Irish singer we love tells us. My husband’s family is Irish and Mexican Catholic. Mine, Irish Protestant. My husband and I are atheists. We believe in suffering for love. My mother is three years dead. We travel everywhere as a family. We play Quiddler and drink sidra and take pictures leaning into the blue between stones.

Asked why he’d lavished painstaking care on the tips of the pinnacles no one could get to, Gaudi answered, “The angels will see them.” My mother-in-law believed when her oldest son first came out he was a sinner. He died knowing she loved him. She still wouldn’t forgive herself for having to build backwards from faith to love.

My father-in-law never talked, in the six years I knew him, about the cage of finches. That hammering. The way the finches belonged to no one. I never talked about what I feared: that I could not go on carrying, around the world, the same unchanging stone.

Still: only eight apostles. Still no Virgin or Jesus. The guidebook says not even Gaudi drew plans for the whole basilica. He couldn’t know how others would need to complete it. A new subway tunnel shakes beneath now, like jackhammers, like heartbeats. The engineers say this is threatening the foundation. The engineers say this is threatening nothing. The angels say nothing. They roost, invisible on invisible spires.


Alexandra Teague is the author of Mortal Geography, winner of the 2009 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and 2010 California Book Award, and The Wise and Foolish Builders (Persea 2015). She is Assistant Professor of Poetry at University of Idaho and an editor for Broadsided Press.

NER Digital is New England Review’s online project dedicated to original creative writing for the web. “Confluences” presents writers’ encounters with works of art such as books, plays, poems, films, paintings, sculptures, or buildings. 



Stone Disease | By Alexandra Teague

Categories: NER Digital, Secret Americas

Landscape(“Stone Disease,” n:  The Victorian obsession with constructing monuments)

Sarah Winchester, Having Been Rescued from Her House, Considers Rebuilding (Apr 20, 1906)

Already, the newspapers are shilling for new buildings:  safer, stronger, walls that will withstand the earth’s dis-ease, as if windows could be willows:  tousled, weeping glass, unbreaking. Why should I believe?—stretching the chimney back to sky:  unsteady cache of bricks, like prayer words stacked inside a shaking throat. Who finds firm ground in probability? Having contracted like a crushed egg shell, the earth is stronger now, less likely to explode. As if my floorboards didn’t quiver like oaks again, rocked by the wind—my room, those hours I waited, a cradle held in breaking branches. Who—having dovetailed plank to plank or breast to breast—hasn’t felt the space that still resists? That fissure where our blent compulsions meet. I cannot consent to heaven and earth, this world and the next, beaten like the white and yolk of egg, Hawthorne wrote. And yet what holds them separate? Even strong walls bend:  soft as envelopes around a page of fear. Last year, in Argentina, I read, a girl’s heart stopped as she dressed for dinner—silk ribbon at her throat, silk stillness of her blood. She woke to stone, scraped knuckles raw against the dark:  that Doric-columned mausoleum built to honor her. There is no reason for fear, the papers tell us now: No need to leave this beauty spot of earth. We still have sunny skies, invigorating breezes, fertile soil. As if we could live, Edened, inside a peach pit—those fine-webbed hollows deep enough for breath. Who says the ground can’t be mistaken? Cannot take back what’s taken? They found her there months later. The thinnest doors stay locked; yet marble crumbles under its own shine like sandcastles under the gleam of waves. We have so little—chiseled stone, small scars—to mark the earth-flung earth.


ReadSafe,” Teague’s companion sketch to “Stone Disease.”

Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives. 

Image via Wikimedia CommonsSan Francisco Earthquake 1906: Fairmont Hotel and Synagogue, National Archives and Records Administration College Park.

Alexandra Teague is the author of Mortal Geography (Persea, 2010), winner of the 2009 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and a 2010 California Book Award. She is Assistant Professor of Poetry at University of Idaho and an editor for Broadsided Press. Her work previously appeared in NER 25.1-2.

Safe | By Alexandra Teague

Categories: NER Digital, Secret Americas
“The more comfortable man makes himself indoors,
the more dangerous do earthquakes become.”
“Let us all banish from our minds forebodings of
the future. WE ARE SAFE. Of this we may feel assured.”
-San Jose Mercury News, late April 1906

When your city wakes as the new ancient ruins:  blocks’ scrambled rubble:  Delphi’s oracle stone-lipped and raving in the streets (wasn’t it she who said to place your faith in wooden walls?). When buildings crumple like newsprint, catch in the wind’s fist, words burning into voweled cries, the living asleep with the dead—whom can you believe? A man shoots a man for stealing a can of tomatoes for his wife and child. A man shoots a man for cutting rings from a corpse’s fingers. Men crowd up broken brick to watch the bank safe opened:  Grecian doorway gaping dark as a throat. Natural contractions of the Earth’s crust, say the papers. Sun spots. Men who were millionaires at daybreak paupers. Saw blade of wall above dark bowler hats, the white sky cut. Inside the safe:  safe gold? Or paper money? Wings of bees? Or olive branches? Siren songs that drove the gods to murder? There is always a future, the past says. Always temples falling. Prophesies offered in a death-smoke high:  We Will Rebuild Better, Stronger.   Theater Dark Until Further Notice.   (Phroso, The Mysterious, Performance Cancelled)   Barnett Real Estate:  Proudly Selling The Earth. 


ReadStone Disease,” Teague’s companion sketch to “Safe.”

Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Wikimedia Commons – San Francisco Earthquake 1906, Opening a Safe, National Archives and Records Administration College Park

Alexandra Teague is the author of Mortal Geography (Persea, 2010), winner of the 2009 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and a 2010 California Book Award. She is Assistant Professor of Poetry at University of Idaho and an editor for Broadsided Press. Her work previously appeared in NER 25.1-2.