LE PUY by Jesse Lee Kercheval

I am in Le Puy in the South of France and an old woman gives me a piece of lace. I am in Le Puy in the shadow of an iron statue of the Virgin Mary the size of the Eiffel Tower. The woman says the lace is for my father who fought to free Le Puy from the Germans. Did she know my father? I am in Le Puy and the sun goes behind the statue of St. Joseph and casts a long cool shadow. Joseph who was Mary’s husband but not, the story goes, Jesus’s father. Did you know, the old woman says, St. Joseph is the patron saint of cuckolds. Is she talking about my father? I unfold the lace she gave me like a map. Who was my father? Is Mary, mother of God, my mother too? I know inside the cathedral is a Black Madonna carved of wood with Jesus, young Black man, sitting in her wooden lap. A Black Madonna who may have once been Isis. A Black Jesus who may once have been her Osiris, her brother and lover, not her son. Once in July, the old woman says to me, it snowed and a woman knelt on this very spot, prayed to Mary and was cured. Cured of what? I wonder. Illness, loneliness, total desperation? She goes back to making lace, pattern pinned to the pillow in her lap as she moves the clacking wooden bobbins. I am lost, I want to say, can you help me? But what I say is, I have always wanted to make lace. Can you help me? And the old woman pats the seat beside her and puts the bobbins in my hands.

Photo by Konrad Hädener, used and adapted under CC.