Well, sabbatical is done. I thought I'd have a lot of time to blog, but I didn't. Here's what I've been up to. A second go at THE LITTLE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS. I think this is very good, and have gotten good feedback. Just need a taker.
by David Craig
Lyrics Based on THE FIORETTI
In this book are contained certain Little Flowers, namely, miracles and devout examples of St. Francis and some of his holy companions
St. Francis, this king of woodsy nuptials,
the upland murmurs—a man so broken he
could not walk upright—he’s outlasted kings, Versailles.
So what roses, earth-red thorns then sprouted like trees?
He was what he lacked, though someone had to be
that too: a divided heart—on his sleeve, God’s good
out walking; no difference between him and the birds:
his skin on the rocks, the trees from where he stood.
He had his wrong John, from Capella, like a dog
or its tail: strewn ganglia, nerve endings; the fool stored
what he needed to give, finally hanging himself:
his life for ballast, a weight no man can afford.
Another, Brother Giles, he wandered his way
up the steps of heaven, bare feet slapping the clay
and marble of sun-baked hills; his only song:
the life he’d found on the ground—an insect’s day.
Another, Filippo Longo, who took the world
to his lips like Isaias-- and so walked with a curious gait;
a Silvester who spoke with God through the bush of this world,
saw him wherever he went; still he kept this fate
to himself, except on days when the sky would wide
open and mouth its icy blue vowel, a wight
whose robe would steam a little in rain; and a fifth,
on the wings of a pure spent soul, he flew up in bent Light,
so like It that only God could tell them apart;
and Bernard, who explained one scripture with the speech
of another: the trees; or the Brother who, because
the world was too much, kept running away—past its reach.
There is nothing here but the standing water, a spring
to no one. Even the birds can’t hear it sing.
Of Brother Bernard, first companion of St. Francis
A cape into penitential fields or the moon’s
scowl standing in water: both offered nothing but loss;
through two of heaven’s years he’d bided the time
that took him, made him a wilderness and a cross.
Though once he’d learned he’d never arrive, this saint,
bituminous in the burning, drew a man
with the least to give in all of Assisi, Bernard,
who invited him over for polished talk--a stand
of trees in money’s rooms; God asking His waif
again to endure the empty walls of his life,
a linen bed, to sit with the alien
he’d become: his branches and the winds of strife.
Out of place in any place, this unkempt fool
was a novice—liar who had to fake his sleep
to pray. But Bernard, as quick as watchful wealth,
did likewise--each beaver soon sawing away in his deep.
“My God, my God,” was all he said that night.
A lone warrior so far from home, into
his answer that he made the night seem lost.
It was call and lullaby. It was something new.
St. Francis had to give all that he could not:
the poorest side of Christ, with no home outside
of the boney remains on the forest floor, so he pitched
in the wind, his need—until the morning’s tide.
And as for Bernard, he loathed this world’s false face.
So he asked his Lord to play a different part.
St. Francis agreed, though this life was, again, too much
for the breadth of his hands, the spider in his heart,
so they walked: the flower and the butterfly,
to mass and prayer--until terce broke all the stained
small windows with its light, the market’s noise. . . .
Bernard felt new again, gave up the reign
of his toys, those golden forms: his tapestries
and cloth, his amulets and vacant chairs
to the sick, who would surely not be helped by them;
to prophetic widows who walk our winding stair;
his coins to orphans, whose greatest need was a hand
along their backs; to thieves, who’d earned the grace
of smaller cells, whose only horde had been
bad choices; to monasteries—most good at face
and soul; to hospices who could use the seats
to help convey others through the race of time;
to brother pilgrims, who were so to get away
from the whisper of such things; and to the rhymes
of this Fr. Silvester, a most despondent ear,
nearly deaf from sacrament, from women and men,
no closer to home for all his boxed-in pleas.
His was a rampart in a mortal fen
of swollen feet and gout, the abscess of sin. . . .
And he should have gotten better return for those stones
he’d lugged to St. Damiano, so they could fix
the church, time itself no doubt! . . . More coins for his home,
a sack to widen his floor! He could say goodbye
to every ripped and lousy chair, his slate
grey table, his single folklore carving, to rooms
one cubit too small since this world began—its bait.
But that night he dreamed: all he owned, stacked up in a field;
the birds in song, and Francis giving his hands,
cupped water. So Silvester, too, gave his nothing away,
his small pile: his life as it was, a heavenly van
of revisions, his worn floor. . . . As a friar, they’d later tell
how he’d speak to Christ as if giving Him a shave.
And Bernard, he became so holy—other, he seemed
a second founder, since he knew so well the grave.
How St. Francis, on account of an uncharitable thought which he had concerning Brother Bernard, commanded the said Brother that he should tread three times on his throat and mouth
Half blinded like the lepers in the world,
his shriveled heart, St. Francis called his home:
Bernard, whose tears might wash his own, called him
into this wood that had dressed him, unmade his moan --
“Come Brother, give light to this blinded man.” But Bernard,
so much a part of the different Prayer that called
to offer him, couldn’t hear the will of God.
So Francis deserted the wood, fretting the stalls
he had wrought, an obsessive past which had led them to this.
And falling on his errors before the Thorns
Who’d shaped both this and the hidden better world,
and from Whom each thing that lives must still be born,
St. Francis felt the voice of Jesus soothe--
though soon enough he was storming Bernard to accuse
himself of sin so entwined in his roots that he
could never escape--the subtlety of its rouse.
Bernard, though, seeing God’s nose in front of his face--
a torn man whose tears had planted and grown him from
the weeds that had wreathed his useless wealth--threw himself
at his feet, awaiting the usual ultimatum.
And Francis, grieving over the time he’d lost,
over the years he still wasted in courtly show,
evoked that inspired irony in Bernard:
“I command thee, my friend, with thy docile will in tow
to do what I shall ask of thee”—but the son,
who knew his crippled father all too well:
his severest ordinances, responded in turn,
“If thou promise to trade with me, a clap for a bell.”
St. Francis, impatient, nodded, because he knew
no other way to be, so flooded with grace
that chaff blew like an internal torrent of straw
as he lay prostrate on his earth’s hearth-place:
“Now press one foot upon my ivory mouth,
and with the other walk my seeding throat;
then tread on my guile and over my wagging throne
three times, for my brain is both the rabbit and stoat.”
Bernard did as much, but gently enough to shield
a fallen leaf. Then he asked his sordid boon:
that St. Francis, every time he saw him, that he
should reprove, loudly, each of his defects, his dooms.
St. Francis marveled, for he could see none or him—
since he was nearly blind. So he played the fawn
and skirted his only friend, which might have been
a good, for who could have borne such carrying on?
How the Angel of God proposed a question to Brother Elias, and because Brother Elias replied to him haughtily, departed, and went along the road to San Giacomo, where Brother Bernard was, and told him this story.
At the call of St. James of Galacia, Francis came
upon a lily, trumpeting its need
along the roadside, the man’s torn petals lifted
like Patience itself: a hallway to where we bleed,
cathedraled inside our spittle and sweat: His cross.
So Francis left his legacy: Bernard,
to help both the follower and the human sore
with their passage: where to give is hard, and to need is hard.
In Spain, the Christ-Wound, still hungry for His heart,
revealed how far his crooked feet would tread.
It was a weird pilgrimage, his traveling
to hear how far he’d travel, how distant his dead.
So it was in thankful ignorance that he
collected Bernard, returned home to each sin, his soul
spread out before God like broken toys on a bed—
or curiosities: the substance of holes.
But a beautiful youth broke into that world, set himself
to the door. He rattled the dust off the hinges, packed
each punch with his need, the urgency of youth.
And Masseo, in time and turn, with his little sack
of blessings, gave greeting and a lesson: how
to knock one’s way into the friar’s world--.
Besides, the answer was away in the woods.
But the lad said never mind that. He wanted that pearl
of wisdom: the learned Elias. Masseo raised
a brow. But that gift, so busy with his mound
of leaves, didn’t want to be disturbed by a flame
so recently lit—or by any other sound.
So Masseo had to trundle back to the door,
now stuck between a lie and a rude place,
delaying, in circles—to more of that knocking, still
the wrong kind. He sighed at his servant’s plight, then pulled
the face of the door again. But this time it was
the youth who instructed, “Go tell your guiding hand.”
The woods spoke first: “Elias, you must speak to the poor,
or you will never hear them—make their demands.”
And so the nettled grudgingly went back;
but the visitor was, again, the one who would say
this tale: “Take care, for anger rips the soul. . . .
Tell me, is it mete for a man to tighten God’s ways?”
Still angrily hovering around everything
he knew, Elias slammed shut the only door
out of his world. A step back inside, though, revealed
the question’s barb, because this trendy bore
had just decreed against the eating of flesh.
So he went back to the door to—nothing, a shout
from Francis in the wood: “Thy pride will make
thee its own net. You must cast those fishes out!”
And at that same hour the youth appeared to Bernard
in a distant wood: “Whence cometh thou, good teen,
through the clear pearls of morning?” Their laughter twined
and carried the friar over a river’s between.
“What is thy name?” asked Bernard. “Marvelous . . .
and so I’m yours!” . . . Bernard, around a fire,
remaining in the angel’s light-hearted thrall,
told the story, still serving the less forbidding sire.
How the holy Brother Bernard of Assisi was sent by St. Francis to Bologna, and there founded a house
For the brothers, honors were misdirection, hell’s
last smile; to be assaulted with words or stones
was substance of a death to be worked for, proof
of nothing. The world got their ragged backs and bones.
And the fruit came: like Paris strawberries, crepes
in May--the true face of Europe. Take Bernard,
against the fascist state, or Marshall’s plan,
who was sent to Bologna without a gun or guard;
adults and children, instruments of ennui,
took turns in yanking his hood. To get the full
effect, he sat the piazza, hit with the first stone;
kids rammed him, some calling themselves the Papal bull.
For days he returned, with darkening bruises, but not
to say “the cross” or “how my excesses pain me.”
(He slept in a culvert near some scratching dogs,
only frigid words to keep him company.)
A lawyer, creator of fictions, watched his eyes,
which were the same, in the day or under the moon.
Who’d sent this man, he wondered, so punctual?
And what did he hope to accomplish by being gooned?
“Who art thou?” he asked, and Bernard, a man without
a name, drew out the Rule—and followed, dumb,
in a lope, as the leader read it, leading the way
to his bell-curtained home. What was this that had come?
By the next day Bernard had become the news!
Just by staying there, in an important place,
where the people could understand—but what he asked?
Some wanted just to touch him, so he had to retrace
his steps, enjoin St. Francis to send the best,
or Bernard might lose more by cake than he’d gained by stone.
And so St. Francis sent a much younger man:
to be led by the people, to be brought like a horse to a home.
How St. Francis blessed the holy Brother Bernard and appointed him his Vicar, when the time came for him to pass away from this life.
Bernard, in mottled sunlight, suffered dark wills
so strong that he had to fall on his face--in the grace
of a larger symphony. That was foreground, his life
in hardscrabble, to which St. Francis added a trace
of tenor like a flight from Mozart’s last
request: a father’s voice which was still enough.
And God, who conducted from the farther back,
coaxed waves as He rode each staff and figured trough.
And our common firehouse fugue revealed itself
not just during Francis’s life, but at the door
of his final death. “Where is my first born son?”
But the founder’s friend withdrew, on the crowded floor,
sent someone else. “My brothers, this isn’t the head
of my own,” he said as he groped at the world then dropped
back on the bed, almost despairing because
he just wanted God, to do the Will that had cropped
him. But what if he were wrong again? Then his hands
found two of his heads: Bernard and the burning red
of Elias. (The thick-haired never enter first!)
“Whoever blesses thee, my first, shall be led
by tones of grace.” (We bless thee Bernard.) Be thou
our intellect’s song--as you became both bell
and lead cow. How the friars would learn to line up behind
you, proceed in their back and forth, down through the dells.
And when it came time to add your fleshy tome
to the repository of sod, Brother Giles
took you into the joy of his station and proclaimed:
“Sursum corda . . . sursum corda”; there are miles
in every inch! And you, though your body waned,
did so, curbing your angels and asking your crew
to sweep out a leafy cell, a place where Giles
might wash the world to its sunny elbows, lose
himself on the last and lasting Bridge of our lives.
And raising yourself again, you spoke a peace:
“Most beloved Brothers, I will not speak many words;
but consider that the religious state must increase
in you as this hour will also come as your life.
I find in my soul, that for a thousand worlds
as good as this, I would not have served a lord
more negligible than ours, . . . Myself, I hurl
at your feet, and ask that you give and bless my leave.
Love one another as I have not loved you.” . . .
And after these words, and a ramble on some herbs
and the gaits of various birds, he lay on his pew:
and his face grew younger, measuring the Life
which had long come to overtake him--his friends
and one angel marveling in the extreme.
And it was only then that his way found its End.
His soul, the crowning glory of his life,
moved beyond this present (and quite limited) fare—
as surely as the others who’d follow him
into that forest, in a leafy procession of biers.
How St. Francis passed the Lent on an island in the Lake of Perugia, where he fasted forty days and forty nights
In the dew: bear dances, Bruegel laughter, ale froth
and mud, so Francis skirted the stalls, the fair,
chose Lake Perugia, a friend’s repose—
where fewer jugglers could rummage through the air
for misplaced choices. He chose instead to fight
the only fight that matters: in his heart, on an isle.
With two loaves of bread to knock together, he begged
for the want which had always led him—beneath the smiles
of temptation under palest moonlit clouds,
the boat and five fingers pulling through the glass.
Stars folded the plum sauce as the dark weeds approached:
the world as it had been, for a boy on the grass,
the morning thickets on that island—a cell
in a blind, in a generosity of leaves.
He prayed when he could and then when he couldn’t, when
the cost of his body paid him with glare or bees.
How many old scars got the better of him in that bush,
how much of his brain was scalded by drops of sun,
molten, that Scourge who invented the second ear:
dead hours on the grass, the core of his Lent now begun?
And the other times, when all meaning disappeared;
he could have been bark on a tree. But he was glad
for that—the earth he had to come back to, without
his God, he’d watch the ants, climb a tree like the lad
he’d always been. And eating the harder half
of a loaf, he knew he had to be poured out again,
and again, so he prayed for his foes, in his too slow way—
for friends who labored building coups and pens.
He felt saved and crushed, the wheat and chaff of a God
who loved too well to leave the thing undone.
And seeds would shed old husks, fibers—for a tongue:
yellow fetus to lithesome green, so moist it stuns.
And then miracles came because there was finally
some room for growth. New locals who began to construct
fine houses there, inhabit them in rows
in the greatest simplicity; and still later to cluck
in a newer village yet, with burghers and fries,
a slew of energetic young girls, and a famed
new friary which is still called The House of the Isle.
And to this very day, the men and dames
of the village put down rushes to walk on, hush,
because they have such reverence and pride
for the spot where Francis made his happiest Lent.
You can hear his pennywhistle from God’s other side.
How St. Francis showed to Brother Leo what are the things in which consists perfect joy
They felt frozen stiff, like a rumbling truck half full
of turnips; St. Francis trudged through his lamest sins
in bare feet, worn cloth, behind his Leo--the slow:
two farmers from Perugia, razed in
the wind, both bare as bones to winter skies,
much as they’d always been, the elements--home.
St. Francis called out ahead and named him “blood,”
“oleander.” Too bitter to talk, Leo walked alone,
ahead of his storm: “Oh, Brother,” Francis reached,
deploying the syllables like a thin stiff sheet
hung over a rope: “Great example isn’t joy.”
(Apparently not—as Leo remembered his feet.)
“ . . . , nor in miracles . . . nor in knowing every text
and scripture . . .” (Nor in any string of discursive bells.)
And on he went, like the road, like this winter life:
“No, nor tongues of angels . . . nor converting infidels . . .,”
For miles he wagged. “No, no, it’s not there, my friend.
Nor at table, nor in the quill, the hides of lambs,
nor in the warm and inn side of a wall.
And if we were to get thrown out on our hams,
into a colder night, and were to bear
that without murmuring as dumb oxen do,
and were to say in the caverns of our hearts
that the lord knew us. And if we stirred the stew
of that keeper’s rage, if our hands ached as we knocked,
and if he were to drive us away with kicks
and buffetings. And if we returned, so gaunt
that our bellies seemed a hazel-knot, the ticks,
our tongues; and if he were to growl, erupt,
come out with a bulbous club and seize us by
our worthless hoods and spin us over and roll
us, kick us into snow and beat us to sighs,
on our welts until they ripped our habits’ seams,
and if we spoke with only the joy of our sores . . .
Ah Brother, now there would be such peace, complete
as the great height of any hearth, the pour
of toast and beneficent tale. There we would find
an answer enough, my friend, to be our calm
and spinning boeuf, our flowered omelettes.
For over all the graces is the balm
of purest ignorance: of conquering self.
Our failure is gain. So let’s not waste the time,
the snow, whatever we feel; how else shall we grow
in the cold before sunrise, in these almost equitable climes?”
How St. Francis taught Brother Leo how to answer him, and the Brother could not say anything but the contrary of what St. Francis desired.
St. Francis, in the throws of their noisy start,
sat down with Leo into what mattered, no book
to guide—just another stalk that shakes the wind
for what it needs, the two of them, by the look
of it, against that lapdog: the need for love.
So he instructed his disciple to say
“In truth, my maw, for thy sins and thy ravening guts,
thou deserve the hell that would sharpen its knives and flay. . .”
(But Li Po’s worm is made to teach the wren.)
“. . . ‘O Brother Francis,’ say, ‘thou hast surely racked
up so many pretty garden party wrongs,
drama woes in thy time, that they overload your pack.
Thou like the greater part of the dog: mankind,
hast merited hell to roast thee in thy turn.’”
But when Brother Leo opened his mouth, only birds
came out: “Our God will work such good as you yearn,
across the doormat of your life, the weave
itself shalt flower with the passing of feet,
and thou shalt have a home on the sun-splashed heights.”
St. Francis, though, would never hear of retreat,
and so Leo fought with himself, meeked: “I speak
in the name of God, this time I will answer true.”
So Francis, again, continued his inward turn:
“O Brother Francis, thou insignificant mule,
too stupid to take even one good step, dost thou think
our God will have mercy on such reticence?
What wilt thou ever do?” And again, Leo,
or someone very much like him, ignored the defense:
“Yea, rather, thou shalt receive great graces from God—
like honey and rain they shalt fall, because he who finds
himself in the dirt shalt own it, and more, and I
cannot say otherwise, for Jesus binds
the corners of my mouth with both of His hands.”
And in this humble boxing match, both our men
held fast to what they knew and had to say,
until the world was changed from what it had been.
How Brother Masseo mockingly said to St. Francis that all the world went after him; and St. Francis replied that this was for the confusion of the world, and for the glory of God.
This quack of mallard, empty morning marsh,
he’d given Masseo their only bowl, came out
of the woods behind birds, lost in his sleeves, the trees,
his twiggy cowl. So the Order asked, “Why the rout?
Of common sense, I mean?” And Francis, who played
each hand he’d been dealt, replied: “What wouldst thou say?”
“Thou art not a man who glitters when he walks,
nor were you born beneath a steward’s sway;
your stature is straight enough, slight though it be,
but you know neither religion nor the stars;
for what reason does the world run after thee?”
St. Francis, who could see the road, but not far,
rejoiced, caught up in the laughter of the Christ,
Who just then stirred some great white clouds with a bite
of breezes, moving the jocund limbs of trees.
He dropped to his knees and spoke the truth. “You’re more right
than you know. For He could find no viler man”—
And because St. Francis felt pulled up, he stood.
“And for this He’s elected me to mud the huts
of the noblest men, to codify the woods;
to give dead limbs and storms to the rich, this flesh
to the strong, to count fleas for the courts, a tongue so tied
since my birth that it takes the world from the wise; that men
may know what they’ve always known: our Lord’s bloody side.
None of this is new.” And Masseo understood
that Francis was twin to the forest’s wildest hog,
its grunt in the grass, a part of the mercy that owns
and covers this world with its contrary weathers, fogs.
How St. Francis made Brother Masseo turn round and round, and then went on to Siena.
Among the charred and vacant, St. Francis lagged
behind, while the active agent, Brother Found,
worked through the issues that faced the larger them,
his present disquiet teetering like a crown.
And when the world agreed: which way to go—
to Florence, Arezzo, Masseo felt confirmed. . . .
But humility stayed the best of him; he asked,
“Where to? “Let us seek the Holy Spirit’s terms.”
“But how are we to know His surest word?”
And St. Francis set him spin as children do,
though they delight in the unknowing, falls,
and Masseo could not. He held to what was true.
He wondered, maybe he should enjoy this game?
But Francis would not let him gather his thoughts.
And his world continued its spin, as it always had
for him--okay. But why so long? He’d wrought
the pot he stewed in, yes, but who could he be?
He got no answer as Siena and
his wits--upon command--soon gathered in
his view. . . . How much correction could he stand?
On the road, Masseo plied his trade with care:
he got the metaphor, the spinning spool,
but why had Francis played the child before
these seculars who often deemed them fools--
that surely wouldn’t help the stereotype. . . .
The Sienese, though, lifted him up from his thought
and hoisted them, as if they were Jesus’s nod,
a-bounce to the Bishop’s holy manse. (They sought
a cure for the town’s relapse, its civic dead.)
And the saint, because he had nothing important to give,
could offer them the peace that drove him, bring them
the ache of God and the joy of where they lived. . . .
Relieved, with a settled flock, the bishop asked
St. Francis to share the flush of wine and the glint
of fellowship, by day and into the night.
Masseo had never expected this, this hint
of a bustling life. . . . But because Francis never gave
himself to sleep, he gathered his hungry birds,
and set off in quiet, without taking the Bishop’s leave.
Masseo fretted for miles about the words
they never spoke, the kindly prelate’s made
and rejected bed. But then he caught his foe:
“Siena had proven itself a humble road.
And if he bids thee throw stones thou ought to do so.”
Masseo was good at throwing stones. Might he
ask him to do that? Fitting, again. . . . And on cue:
the master’s hand on his back. “Those seeds thou now sow
will find good soil. But thy first spread would do
neither you, nor the birds, nor the ground any good. Your reach
was hell’s.” Then Brother Masseo saw clearly that
this man knew his heart. But he was glad because
St. Francis had never cast him out on his hat.
How St. Francis imposed on Brother Masseo the office of the door, and of the kitchen, and of the almsgiving: and afterwards, at the prayers of others, released him.
St. Francis, a Van Gogh, his ear so in the world
beyond that people wondered if he spent
enough time here. He spoke from out of the blue,
like an ox that jumps its track. The friars bent
in close to hear. And so Masseo was sent:
“Thy brothers are herons who have the gift of wait
and contemplation. They need our leave to peel;
and since you, a stalwart wagon have to rate
the gift and rut of compromise: the noise
of the day in your preaching, that you may know both the rhyme
and the silence that has formed us all, perform
the door, the kitchen, and almsgiving for a time.
And when they eat, to give them more room at board,
take thy world and plate and sup at the door on thy haunch--
with the mice so that you might know all little things.”
He felt so stunned that a living saint would launch
him with a gift of preaching--since he had seen
his brothers glide recollected like great ships--
that he drew his hood and hurried to his place.
His father’s proposal, in short, made a perfect slip.
But his companions, since they were not detached
from this present world, and did not like the me,
the sting of privilege as they watched him hump
about, like a house guest trying to fit--where he
does not belong, lined up before the saint,
their shaven heads neatly bowed. Their least then asked
to share their brother’s joy. So Francis, surprised
again by the Spirit, gave his birds new tasks.
Masseo, of course, was good with either way:
“My Father, your directions are the door I trace--
the poorest hand of Jesus--in my dust.”
And St. Francis, seeing God’s earth in each pleasant face
and hearing the trees in their shake outside the hut,
allowed the Spirit to consume him, lift
him through his words. He preached how only the gifts
of God make us smaller by the day, His sift,
until we disappear. We are God’s larks
to Himself. And then as a father, Francis raised
the jobs like Christmas candy above their hands,
while Masseo swaddled his present--on a distant bay.
How St. Francis and Brother Masseo placed some bread which they had begged on a stone beside a fountain; and St. Francis greatly praised Poverty; and how St. Peter and St. Paul appeared to him
Feeling crowded by expectations, their long
and holy faces, St. Francis sent them out
with all that they possessed: their sins; then yoked
himself to Masseo, his rudder, for his last bout
with his father’s France. En route, the two of them came
to a piggy squeal of a town, with too many kids
chasing beasts, old women cut-outs in their crofts;
another place brimming with good needs and bids
to meet them. . . . It was time to beg for the day and its bread.
And because St. Francis was smaller than his size:
ungainly, ruddy, with tangled hair, he drew
the first pried morsels of charity: his prize—
a stale trencher, while Masseo, tall,
a man who had surely just misplaced his way,
was offered lighter bread from behind hinged doors. . . .
And after they’d sampled the village’s one horse sway,
its anger, they camped just beyond its noise, near a stream
where they could place their bounty: Masseo’s true worth
and want, the leprosy that would mold those hands.
“O Masseo, who are we to rake God’s earth?”
The other, though, foreseeing only want,
gaunt brothers, replied: “But prophetic Father, we lack
a cloth, the cutlery, the porriger.
Shall our future selves expire along muddy tracks?”
St. Francis, who always lived here, just stopped--then raised
his hands: “So it has always been: for the poor,
who have borne our name well before we knew their face
and could wash their feet with our praise. Embrace their sores:
these things were keen for their tables because we want.
May Lady Poverty serve us until we are fed.”
And after they’d worked their mouths around the rot
and opened their faces to water, St. Francis led
them toward the great and self-sufficient France.
But because what isn’t is so far away,
they stopped at a church. There Christ took over the saint,
who flushed past red, into the pallor of grey:
his face, now vacant, with sapped and whitening lips,
his essence, like smoke through a door as Love in-breathed
him: a conflagration for all the baffled folk
he had ever known, their names and faces, the sleeves
of their lives. And then coming back to his friend, he croaked
in a distant voice: “Ah! Ah! My brother, yield
thyself to me as the spring does to the rose,
as the rising dust does to the roads, the fields.”
Three times he repeated this, and by the last
he lifted a so relaxed Masseo up by
his breath, that the man’s arms took to following him
in his spin, and thus giving reason for the sky
outside. He felt adrift in every leaf
before its Life. Then it tossed him the length of a spear:
Masseo grogged into this same world—the one
he’d never known, so sweet of soul that his tears
enfolded him still in the creases and breath of God,
His linen hands, the fibers and weave of grace.
(The sanctified spiders and thickets--they roused too,
as did that transparent yodel: the stream’s icy face.)
What he reached for that day he found: the heaven which breathed
the world, gives it form and comfort. . . . And then he was home,
fell to a dirt floor, near the mouth of St. Francis: “Let
us visit the Apostles, St. Paul and Peter in Rome.
Let us ask for the house of mercy, Poverty,
our Lady, since her loss makes vanity reveal
itself, makes it writhe in the light of day. She is
His cross and only consolation--a peal
in our lives. May she guard her children with weakest arms,
give us these elders and walk us through holy lands.” . . .
Once on those hills, he grabbed Masseo and arched
up the lofty nave which seemed the praying hands
of the cathedral. . . . And because those saints lived so close
to his life, they turned that shortest of corners and met
him in stone: “The Lord Jesus has sent us to give you your wish
which is His; moreover, His blood would grant you yet
more, that your sons might be Her rags and call.
And whosoever shall trace thy lead shall own
the Heart that bears him thence—by the cut through stone
that reveals God here.” . . . And then they became his moans.
St. Francis tippled to Masseo, whose eyes
were closed, whose molars ground their way--to what?
He had seen nothing but cold floors, his dirty feet,
the world still beneath them, its pilgrims and its ruts.
So Francis gave him the other half of our tale—
one man on earth, one verging into sky.
And then it was time to turn, embrace their huts.
(St. Francis had forgotten his father’s sigh.)
As St. Francis and his Brothers were speaking of our Divine Lord, He appeared in their midst
Beneath the moon’s icy and ancient glance, this waste--
a void of voices against invented days:
God is a lie. But the earth impinged, and he turned
his ear, the river opining what was—its praise.
Besides his friends in every town knew the price
to be paid, the burdens of fellowship. So he called
the men, asked each to speak one word from God.
And as soon as one Brother would, St. Francis walled
him up inside his room of silence again
and moved on to the next talker, so that each leaf blew
in the Wind which made his bed. (That gift in place,
St. Francis would ask the next for all he knew.)
Their meekness could’ve made them clouds in the sky,
or a line of green-necked ducklings swimming the pond. . . .
And when the last had dunked, the Blessed Christ,
the Aperture appeared, all Father and fond,
the Living Substance of their words: the Ground
which waters the earth in a rush of sticks and bones.
He is the Life Who offers exactly Himself,
Who creates as we might breathe, all that we clone
in His cupped hands. It was more than their bodies could take. . . .
Until Francis rose into what he’d become: “Let’s bless
our God, Who has willed that the wavering mouths of fools
should reveal His power though all He’s not. The rest
is His, and we will march and file our days
in hiddenness, below His silent speech,
until the world recovers the war it has lost
and loses the peace beyond its articulate reach.”
How St. Clare ate with St. Francis and his companion Brothers at St. Mary of the Angels
Sir Francis, a knob of cauliflower, a knot
in a stick, a wet field, set off to visit Clare. . . .
But when she needed to rest her head on his chest,
he felt the earth, its kinship, begin to tare.
“Our father, this stiffness seems unnatural;
unless you can find it in the parables
or in nature,” the brothers said. . . .“Very well, since it seems
so to those on the fence, so it does to the stupid bull.
But we will eat here with St. Mary and her troupe.”
And so St. Clare, with one of her sisters, left,
escorted by jongleurs, his boutonnières
who squired them to her Lord’s new kingdom--which cleft
their way: to the place of her betrothed’s hat,
or so these too happy feet in this out of step
dance seemed to her. With a simple table set
on the ground! (Perhaps a trap set by the adept?)
St. Francis spoke and got lost in the beauty of God
Who’d placed all food on the plate of matter: he praised
the dusk, his sister, out of whose immaculate mouth
came a woman clothed in lilies, the length of days;
the forests and wells, who foretell our lives in wet
and oaken buckets. The monks were like birds left to sing
and grieve for sin and death; he lamented that
in our comings and goings so much of the world that we cling
to outlasts us. So he raised both the friends and foes of God,
like a raiment high above them all. The race
and the family, its story: Redemption, and not.
Then he lifted this earth-bound bread and blessed the place
as he sang the Name of names, the One Who speaks
us alive, and then again in the mystery
of His choosing. And so St. Francis gave himself
to the food, to thrive his fiends, to set captives free.
And as this new community both found
its Light and lost its bearings, men from town,
from Betonia too, behind the flanks of horse
and home, their forging places, turned from their frowns,
their partial answers to see St. Mary’s wood
aflame, felt the heat from the road. And fearing the worst,
they geared and ran to help. But when they got
there, sides heaving in stabs of pain, they gasped and cursed
the good in front of the crumbling hut--where they found
too many nests on the ground, the plaster patched,
the stony silence. . . . So caps in hand, they went in,
saw people in robes much older than rags, singed thatch,
some heads bobbing back in a swoon, digesting their God.
Other holy folk nodded a similar measure. (None bore
an apron coated in blood and fat.) . . . And then
St. Francis returned to a oddly tracked up floor
to speak about the folds of Poverty,
about being her useless child: they’d been freed to hear
the voices that mattered—twigs underfoot, the wind,
the cry of the poor, the nothing that they held dear. . . .
And St. Clare, well-escorted again by the simple hands
of the saint, returned to St. Damian’s where she
could offer no relief—they were sure she’d been called
away to graft some other vine, decreed
from them, as Francis had given Sister Lamb
to Monticelli. But no, she said, she’d been sent
here--until they got it right, though she would perch
forever to go, since given lives must be spent.
How St. Francis received the counsel of St. Clare, and of the holy Brother Silvester, that he should preach for the conversion of many; and how he founded the third Order, and preached to the birds.
As he lead a flock of flapping herons, wrens,
St. Francis repented that he had no gifts
to build on here. So he asked, could he pray or should
he burden the noise and preach? What would be his shrift?
He asked Brother Masseo to go to Clare, and to
Silvestro—who spoke with God as if at lunch.
“This is what God says,” offered the Latter. “‘Thou shalt say
that Christ hasn’t called him to watch his spirit bunch
like flowers after rain. But that he feel
his death so that others might learn to live. Give him hail
to hear that his Lord will be a spoken Word.”
Masseo then turned to Clare--and the nodding of veils.
When he came back, St. Francis washed his feet
until he could see their beauty again, then led
him into the bracken, spaced trees, where mottled light
had been most of his sight, had offered the absence that fed
him. “Let’s go,” he said after hearing, and they left that spot
forever, with all the courage of one better armed.
He gave no thought to the way, but scurried, so fast
that he did his brother’s new humility harm.
The village was called Savurniano. And so
he began to preach, with no concern for what
came out, commanding the swallows to stop until
he had finished. He spoke with such ardor: words that cut
his own heart, until the whole village wanted to drop
what they were doing, leave their hammers, homes.
St. Francis, shocked, had to reign their zeal back in:
homes had to settle so the preachers could roam. . . .
Along the side of the road, he touched each trunk
at its station: erudition on the way.
But even these came alive with the singing of friends:
each wanting to be counted, to have its say;
and so he settled his Brethren: “Wait here, my friends,
a little while. I must go and preach God’s song
to my sisters, the birds. The earth is clay, but it
is river too. And they must know the throng
that gathers them in.” And he began to preach
to those at his feet about the Ground. But the lost
that perched the branches could not accept their place,
and so flew up and down off branches, which tossed
behind--now silent and earnest in the round:
like a button in its hole; and even when
he had finished spelling out duty and degree,
they would not leave the confines of their pen
until he blessed them. And as Masseo would long
after relate, St. Francis went deep and out
among them, touching them with the turns of his cloak.
He called them by made-up names, foreseeing each bout:
erupting wing or beak. The docile earned praise,
and none of them moved until he’d rejoiced in the slant
or tilt of each head. And as St. Francis spoke
again to them, they opened their beaks--not to rant
at this hungry world. But instead they stretched their necks,
their wings and bowed a mortal carpet, their heads
to the earth, to show him that his gift of words
had given them mission to go and die in his stead.
The saint then made the sign of Life, gave them leave
to depart to their new homes, to live their square feet
of life. And thereupon those birds whirled up
a sky, a chorus of air--and in precise fleets
divided themselves into four. They flew both east
and west, to the south and north, in love with the Cross,
renewing St. Francis and his Brothers, who would
possess no flight of their own--except in loss.
How a little boy-Brother, whilst St. Francis was praying at night, saw Christ and the Virgin Mother and many other saints talking to him.
Awake at night, with no family bed or tales,
no mother’s hands or voice to quiet trees,
the slashing rain as he lay, one soul, in a world
of truckle beds, under sweat, a cracking knee,
and the snores, as near as he could to Francis, who would,
long after prayer, in the buzz of flies, slip away.
The boy needed to know where he went--to what ritual,
adventure; so he tied his cord to his, a tight sway
to signal the time, but loose enough to give. . . .
St. Francis rose to untie the predictable schemes
of this world and walked out into the mouth of the night,
into a cell where he traded sleep for the seems
of light. . . . The boy startled to find the cord, put his face
behind him and walked the path into the dark wood.
He heard much speaking--and so forgot his way. . . .
And then he saw them all through the leaves, his first good:
a glimpse of heaven among the crickets, a bright man
not much bigger than he: St. Francis--and the Son!
The bright world bent into Him, its Way and Life;
and humility: his mother, who looked like a nun;
and seated on a rock . . . the face of the Baptist!
And the Evangelist, who was shorter than all
except Francis, with wings which rivaled the multitude
and crowd of angels--some high above in a brawl
of anxious feathers, some below in a nave of limbs,
around the One. But because this row was so close
to heaven, so far from the boy, he fell to the earth
like an acorn. . . . St. Francis, stumbling through a dark dose
of this world, tripped over the boy who, sunk among
its roots, lay sequestered; the saint then lifted him up
as best he could. And in the morning, having learned
how central the night had become, he sought to dim
it through obedience. The lad was not
to tell a soul as long as Francis should serve
on the altar of time. And the boy grew in vigor, in peace:
devoted to Francis, a man now, his tenuous nerves
forgotten, happy with the smallest place.
And after the death of the poorest one, his tale
was added to those which had so mastered him,
so that others could enjoy this holy jail.
Of the marvelous Chapter which St. Francis held at St. Mary of the Angels, at which were present more than five thousand Brothers.
In a valley of daffodils, each with no place
or reason to lay his head, or brown-eyed Susans
a-flutter, like schoolgirls in a lively breeze.
Who’d have thought that Life had undone so many--again?
St. Dominic-of-His-way, though, on his cool
and studied course from Borgogna to the See
in Roma had to account the thousands himself.
And a Perugian Cardinal, too, came to free
himself in this comedy of charity,
each brother doing too much for his own: “These knights
are the truer Templars of the Crucified.
This is the crusade we sought, Christ’s visible plight
and song.” The Brothers’ tents were hung upon
the willows, in mats of rush, under trees and the moon;
positioned stones made for Provinces, though none
abided, each friar belonging to no one, so they soon
began to name themselves, “The Chapter of mats,”
or “of the trellises,” or “of this ravine.”
Their bed was the ground from which they sprang, and they found
the warmth they sought in night talk, in the straw they’d gleaned;
for pillows they had the mossy stones, or their arms
or logs of wood--and memories of home. . . .
Their hiddenness drew the busy eyes of those
who counted--themselves: on great horses in the gloam,
the flourish of ownership; and the glances, too,
of parish priests, graced abbots, they all came to see
this lowest rung of heaven--Francis, in the end,
a fool who took in each stiff: the “us” and the “me.”
“My sons, so great is the providence of God
that the fall leaves fizz yellow, cry out His name.
This world is the rapture of His voice. But its call
must not stay us. We have our work: to tame
ourselves. So we can’t be bound by the demands
it makes. Laughter of lilies, I command you to stand
and have no care for tomorrow, or for where you’ll die
since He lifts you up like water into his hands. . .”
St. Dominic, though, who’d been lessoned by his dreams
and had seen the needy orphaned girls of Spain,
knew that prudence demanded earnest husbandry--
or the men would certainly all end up like Cain. . . .
But flowers get by with the sun, and the local folk
from Perugia, Spoleto, Foligno came with mules
and carts, each laden with their lives’ red wine,
the bunch in grapes. With mindless cheer new rules
chased the brothers around, each trying to out-serve
the rest. Great knights and gentlemen who counted—
(again) themselves, who’d come to be amused,
now snapped green beans. . . . St. Dominic dismounted.
“No Brother in my Order shall own any land.”
And Francis, with an ear in the Spirit, followed suit:
he forbade leather bands, sharp-pointed chains--more than
five hundred of the latter, a cache of loot
with included circlets for the arms and lions.
(He left them there, in the field, that the crickets and rain
might eat them, teach them to rust in forgiving soil.)
Concluding, St. Francis left his own with a stain:
that each moment might be filled with blood, and with
the cage of heaven shaking all the bare trees.
He dismissed them to the halls of the woods, each place
enlivened with a chorus of bending knees.
How the vineyard of the priest at Rieti, in whose house St. Francis rested, was despoiled of its grapes, and afterwards miraculously yielded more wine than heretofore: and how God revealed to St. Francis that he should have Paradise for his portion
His eyes were dim--the way he’d always been,
out nosing among dead leaves: too slow to stand,
too quick to sit down. So if his Lord had need
of this last and hesitant dance, He could take his hand,
as his brothers had, though Francis often mused:
who was in grateful tow here, as the band
set off on another Cardinal song? They stopped
at Clare’s, his eyes, the wilted blooms in his hands.
He saw men like trees, trees like the fall of man.
It was the cross. He could tell by the smell of his blood,
by the physical pain he felt at people’s touch.
Misunderstanding, St. Clare gave him the mud
of a hut where he might rest from company.
Without his eyes, he had to endure the rats’ feet
as they scratched a horde of innuendo along
the walls, at his robe. How could he lie down, or eat?
He could get no rest, either during the day or at night;
a victim of prayer, his friends left him alone.
It was all he could do to keep from crying out.
This was the other side of Palm Sunday’s stones--
for his sins, and for those tendencies he’d passed
along to the Brothers. People thought too much of him.
He knew the state of the house in which he lived:
its stink and bad turns, the fouled cockroached corners.
This was the purge no man escapes—the truth
of his life. He lead with his hands and felt along
those internal walls, his breathing the only sound,
except for no prayer which gave a night to this wrong.
“Rejoice, little Francis. I give you a throne, a chair
large enough to embarrass, a gilded catacomb. . . .
An increase of joy brings sorrow. How could it be
another way . . . until all the lambs are home?”
Relieved, St. Francis held both of Clare’s small hands
in his own, then bowing a little to the right,
he winked at her and with his attending monk,
took his leave to go and finish flying his kite. . . .
As they approached Rieti—more threats that he
couldn’t see: many came to gawk, but all to see.
So the Brothers lead him to a church two miles
from town. It didn’t work. Folks circled, their pleas
alive with zeal, or something very like that.
In their haste, they razed the priest’s vineyard--and he died,
like we do when we consent to charity:
another faulty vision crucified.
But Francis had a heart much larger than
his own: “Good hands of Christ, how many sacks
of wine have the cuttings left you in your best
year under heaven, sun on the ground, on the backs
of your servants?” “Twelve.” “Please allow this feast for a few
of these days, and let who will, come home, for the heart
of God and for me, his useless little clown,
and eight more measures shall find you, where seas part.”
And so St. Francis, pressed about by souls,
the huge and singular presence of each child
and woman, their needs, could offer just the Lord
who owned him, pouring himself because his guile
was gone. And many went away cured or whole,
bent on abandoning the world that day;
the vineyard trampled, scarcely one cluster upon
the next, not one of them fit. So the Brothers delayed
in their going, re-set his vines and gathered the grapes. . . .
And the cleric trampled that promise, over and again
in his mind as he tread his sorry yield. . . . And of course,
he got his measures--that year and every one hence!
Who can believe these stories? Besides the folk
who read them, that is? Nobody—at least at first.
Then you realize you need the grapes, the wine.
How else would the world be drawn into His thirst?
Of a wonderously beautiful vision seen by a young Brother
Did his scratchy habit expose his divided heart,
the smelly him it carried: an old, wet barn?
His angry sleeves invented lice—felt like roots
in dark and occupied waters. The hood was darned,
ungracefully knit; it whispered charade. And the coarse
weave offered no give: it bagged the saint that he
would never become. He’d known the greasy till,
but that had spat him out—unerringly.
Forever between, he wearied of his leash:
in obedience to lie prostrate before the Bread
each hour, his feet the only sound he could hear.
The void would surely take him--to where he’d been fed.
And so he went there one last time, to be
confronted by a host of heavenly louts:
saints clad in a painful daze of transfigured cloth,
embroidered calls, by gold and silver shouts,
by cyan and daffodil, with such peace, a rough
and robust glory—plush buttons and a bloom
of chestnut hoods. . . . The two most nobly attired,
almost hidden in the midst of the lavish loom
and pomp, in a torrent of fine stitchery,
seemed taken aback by the unearned march, its pace
and beauty, trying to step as everything sang
of peace. . . .Our Brother watched well beyond the brace
of their going. And then, at the end of the line he caught
a third, adorned for his glorious final course
in a wide hat, that the man appeared as though
he were a new-made knight being led to horse
and honor and a fitting home, with friends. . . .
Then the brilliance passed with the last sounds of feet
as they slapped the slate. But the Brother grabbed some heart. . . .
“We are all of us Friars Minor who have found our meat
in heaven. We have come down to show the least
of the Brothers that dilation.” . . . “Who were the two,
small in such gold?” . . . “Those who have given all:
St. Francis and Anthony. . . .And the last is the fool
who lately died, whom I name Brother Persevere,
because his road ran, like everyone’s, right up
until the end. But now it has ended, and its truth
begun. See how he drinks, at last, from the cup
as it really is. Our rough habits were our poor
and only answer, our insufficient song.
So don’t let the sackcloth of your life disturb
your goal.” . . . These words said, our youth returned to the wrongs
he knew: his life like a tent with too few poles.
And knowing how much he was cherished, the Brother fought
the face of ease and lived in the roughness of cloth:
the place that gave him the only no-home he sought.
Of the miracle which St. Francis performed when he converted the wolf of Gubbio.
Once upon the neck of time, the hide of nature
compounded Gubbio’s problems, eating crates
of snarly teens and suspicious mates; folks lived
for fear because death now loped so near their gates.
Though they beat their sticks and shouted when he came close,
nothing but itself could send the plague away.
So people carried pikes when they went out,
are far as they dared, caught up in the common lay.
And so Francis, who felt the tumid constriction as streets
seemed to squirm in their own juices, sweating and sealed,
went out to the wounded beast, though many hands
tried to hold him back. Outside, he blessed the fields
and made his way almost alone toward
their pasts, their cache of fears. The crowd behind,
the wolf gave a voice to the oldest of oral tales.
But Francis, with no home on earth to bind
him, made his treasure sign and stopped the stars
in their wheel. Then he bad the wolf to come and bend.
Overthrown, the creature did so. But because sin lives
in the wake it makes, the saint sought further amends.
If the wolf would carefully walk in its step, neither men
nor dogs would make it run. “And I promise your pelf,
both food and a hearth-place, shall be given you,
for well I know how hunger can turn--on itself.
Just be sure to save your carrots for the stew.”
And the wolf then dropped his eyes. “I would have thy hand,
Brother Wolf, that thou wilt stay in this vow, without
which I cannot trust thee to thy nature. The land
will not suffer thee.” Then St. Francis, because he knew
mankind, sought to broaden the moment, to make it event:
“Brother Wolf, in the Name of Jesus Christ, who taught
us, let us go, you and I, and confirm this time we’ve spent.”
And the wolf, disturbingly large for a sheep, walked close
to Francis to show that it understood, was changed.
And the window talkers, the gossip stalkers, the reaps
and the sewn, they filled the piazza to see the deranged
made straight: “Goliath” and St. Francis, who told
them their sin had pushed Who-Should-Be-First into
demanding that their need be better known.
“And much worse than fangs or death are the flames that are due
to those who wait. Do penance for you sins.”
The sermon ended, St. Francis sought refuge for
Sir Knight by giving himself as surety;
and the wolf gave paw—a moment later than lore
would have liked, yes, but it promised to stay and work
to keep his word. “Brother Wolf, I desire that you
now pledge your only faith inside the gates
of this place and heaven.” . . . And so littleness and her crew
again changed everything into themselves.
As for the wolf, he lived on the fat of the skim,
without harm for two years--and because he was so large,
the people gave way (to Francis) and to him.
He was what he had become. Though after his death,
it must be said, that the people did not lay
a fitting stone for either—our human needs,
though there is a tiny one selling the square today.
Earlier versions from THE FIORETTI
VI Francis chooses Bernard as his Vicar
It was cold and it snowed
the day Francis died.
The door rattled on its hinges—
last guest outside.
Tiles slid off the roof.
Bernard felt the weight
of all he had not done
as he sat on the dirt floor, cornered,
leaning his forehead again and again
into the whitewash—sepulcher:
feeling the dead-wood in his soul,
empty . . . in the by now
It would be another day—
unlike the previous:
the whole world, oblivious
to its tears.
Francis alone soon would be gone.
There would be other days
Bernard wouldn’t want.
And so when the poor one
called for his first born, Bernard
couldn’t help himself, shook
like a tired baby: Vicar
to the cracked pallet--
the first of many wayward children.
XXIII Francis helps a brother who is in sin
Francis walked in silence,
a step ahead of another
wronged brother. The sun was setting,
and the bark on the trees turned orange.
The two of them sat down on a hill,
first Francis, then the other.
They watched the moon rise, talk to them,
shedding its column of light
on the water.
Francis, alone with their lives, stopped,
picked up a dead branch.
“Did you know,” he asked,
“that the forest has bones?”
He broke the branch over his knees.
The sound echoed through the trees
in the twilight.
“Make a wish,” he said,
“. . . one that’s not your own.”