YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT



His name is better known now
         for rainbow flags, a Pope,
         and source of software code. Wear
                 a flower in your hair.

Assisi on the terraced contours
of Subasio. When Giovanni Bernardone
     was born there in 1182
        there were more trees,
     fewer domes and steeples,
       but the lapis lazuli sky
     blue as the Virgin’s mantle
           remains the same.

The dust devils still dervish-whirl
through orchard and vineyard in summer.

“Giovanni” was his mother’s idea,
          his father
who’d made his textile fortune in Provence
     wanted to call him
“the Frenchman”, Francesco
     or as we say
         Francis.

Our future Italian bodhisattva,
     (Namaste to the Deva
     that dwelt within him)
worldly-wise by his twenties, taking
     up the sword in war
between Ghibelline and Guelph
(he on the Papal side against Perugia) –
he wasn’t very good at soldiering

          captured
imprisoned in the city of his enemy
     where he first tasted
     loneliness, want, discomfort.

          He tried again
riding off in splendid armour
     to join Walter of Brienne.
He didn’t get further than Spoleto
          thirty miles away.
          His frailty felled him
     before the enemy had a chance to.

The rebellion against paternal authority
     is hardly new, an eternal
        verity.
The impetuous youth
     ran off and hid in a cave
     for a month like a bandit.

     When he returned
corpse pale, his finery in rags
the townsfolk, thinking him
     a demented beggar
     and fearing contagion
     threw clods of dirt at him.

Papa Bernardone must have nearly
had the patience of Francis’ Heavenly Father,
     took back
his prodigal, though fearing
for his son’s sanity, chained him in
     a secret room.
          The shame.

Well, you know what they say
     about Italian men
and their mothers’ apron strings…
Mama Bernardone conspired
with a priest to get Francis into hiding.

          By then
          Frankie
     had discovered
          that poverty
          and Jesus
          made him
          light up
    like a Christmas tree.

He still had some of his father’s money
giving it away in the name of the Church.

At some point Papa had enough
          and cut him off,
such is the way when a son,
drunk on frightening ideals
     and the Oedipal spring
goes off on his own path, though
denouncing your flesh and blood
          to the Bishop
seems a bridge too far.

And then the famous scene,
     the deliberate
    imitatio Christi.
                                    Francis
goes before the judge.    
                                                 You will
have seen the fresco in the Basilica, yes?
     By Giotto’s hand.
     In front of the judge
he sheds his lavish clothes in the name of God
     this proto-Marxist
     and dons sackcloth
with a length of rope slung around his waist.

          From there
     he was off to embrace lepers.
           You remember
Princess Diana hugging people with AIDS?
          It was like that.

     He made them human.

          As for the rest
     the vision of the crucified
     Christ floating above him
          like a Jesus kite
     tethered to his stigmata,

or all the Dr Doolittle stuff,
the Brother Sun and Sister Moon…
          I don’t know.

     I sometimes wonder if
     when he was famous
     he buried the hatchet with Dad.

If so
     it must have been awkward
          on those visits
at the family dinner table
          crunching on the bones of the
          sparrows he’d been

preaching the Gospel to the day before.

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