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Upon the Burning of Notre-Dame

by Jason Kahler

"When we die we all become fish"

I said to no one, & the French cathedral on television 

burned & the transmission's signal flared

with the glow of centuries of relics

rising on angry wind, at last 

exposed to sky. What does it smell like,

all that incense, all at once?

I've stood in that cathedral's shadow

and I'm taking its immolation personally.

Fire & water share the same ebullience. 

Heat curls the edges of crucifix 

or oil painting in equal measure. Stained glass

or onionskin blushed dark by fire. Old stones hewn

into the black, icons melted to their fingertips. Secrets like prayer freed from the walls

lifted toward stars.

When we die we all become fish

because it's water, isn't it, 

that calls us home in the end? After the dust. The dusk.

The fire of sunrise. Eyes that once focused

through the womb's darkness learned the colors of the air,

but water we know like our mothers' viscous heartbeats.

We rebuild with water, form the mortar with our hands

made gray with labor. Until

          death arrives, too, like a reflecting pool,

cool & lonely & smooth.


Jason Kahler is a teacher, writer, and researcher from Southeast Michigan. His scholarship and creative work have appeared in or are forthcoming from Cosmic Horror Monthly, Connecticut River Review, The Columbia Journal, The Hong Kong Review, Seneca Review, College English, the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, the Stonecoast Review, and other publications. He can be found on X (formerly Twitter), Bluesky (, and his own website.


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