Loretto Chapel

There are a number of mysteries surrounding the spiral staircase. Among
them are the identity of the builder and the physics of its construction.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Missing half of her right arm and all of the left, the young woman looks up at the spiral staircase, smiles.

The staircase winds in two 360-degree turns with no visible structural support.

I drove from the California desert to Santa Fe searching for something I lost. Everyday I lose something: eyeglasses, a pair of scissors, my shoe, a dying friend.

Tonight I sleep in a strange bed, at an inn next to Loretto Chapel. I used to wear a wristwatch to sleep. It glowed in the dark like my own miniature moon—now I don’t sleep much, don’t want to know the time.

Did you know St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of Carpenters?

And when I finally drift off, I see the young woman with half an arm walking with my mother who is missing half her left leg. It makes perfect sense in that other-world way.

The nuns at the Chapel came to believe it was St. Joseph himself who appeared as a poor carpenter, riding a donkey. In search of work, he said, as though he’d heard their novenas.

My mother wraps her arm around the woman’s waist, whispers something and leads her out of the chapel. The woman’s lips move as she begins to cry.

They step out into the chapel garden—cathedral bells chime. A man with a wizened face waves a raven’s wing as they pass.

Birds fly from the aspen and cottonwood trees, feathers fall from the branches. A group of children draw chalk circles on the ground.

People come to see a miracle.

My mother sees me now though her eyes are partially closed, a turquoise shawl wrapped around her. She points to the shimmering aspen leaves.

Silver fire ignites the clouds.