A taste for sainted meat

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Four poems about Francis of Assisi

Open mic: hear Grant Fraser read his four poems about Francis of Assisi, live from the Eureka Street studio. Listen

1. Sistered by Death

For some there are vanities that rise up as rags,
And declare their holy poverty to the world;
For others, language is a dazzling vestment
Worn close to the skin;
But you, Francis, kept your words and your poverty
At a sacred distance, so that in each dawn,
You could rise like a swimmer
And breach the water afresh,
Hair bubbling with curls.

And thus, in the time that you made your own,
You could seek the light of life in a swaying viper's eyes,
Know that in the curving of a thorn
Begins the poem of the rose,
And hear amongst the best of birdsong
A small motet of crows.

In all that you astounded, so you confounded,
Until, at the end, you lay down upon the earth,
And, sistered by death, simply shed your life,
Lay inert,
Espoused to dust,
As quiet as lightning.

2. St Francis and the Leper's kiss

And oh the Leper waits within the silence of a child;
The dulled edges of his universe are like a balm of air:
he is unstung by any frost, indifferent to all crackling fire.
And Francis comes, a pale faced young man,
Head roughly shaved, down at heel.
He bears a Demon on his back
which breathes a fog into Francis' eyes,
Burdens him,
Hobbles his knees, stoops his heart.
The Demon has the face of a saint.
The Leper reaches for his bell,
But as the young man approaches
A great sigh comes from him,
And, rising up from his stooped demeanour,
He flings the Demon from his back
And sheds the shining carapace
Which falls like a cloak to the ground.
And Francis, older than he first appeared,
His pale face coursed by time, leans to the Leper,
And reaching his arm about the shoulders of the Leper,
Pauses to look closely into his face,
Then kisses his proffered cheek,
Its grey meticulous skin.

3. The Falling

When you fell from the grace of the world
You were lost to its cool linens,
Its glamour of steel,
Its ancestries of faith and hope,
And its promises of death made comfortable
In ossuaries of patterned bones.

When you fell, at the first, you were undone:
You were a moth inside a bell
Soundlessly dusting the bronze,
A worm on stone
Yawning convulsions to the sun.

Then you fell into
The yield of your life
And began to bell the sounds
Of all those stranger words
That shimmer within the grammar of Christ:
To love beyond reckoning,
To forgive audaciously,
To make of poverty an act of grace.

4. Saint Francis and the Wolves

Saint Francis had a particular affection for wolves,
Even though the wolves themselves would sometimes meet
To plot his savage demise.
But catching him unaware was difficult,
For even when his back was turned,
He could hear the faintest footfall of a wolf,
Even in snow.
They knew that could not snare him in his sleep,
For an angel lay by his side when Francis was in repose,
And, even though the angel, too, appeared to sleep,
There was a faintness about his wings that made them tremble.
They named the Angel Doomspike.
So, the wolves called a meeting with the Saint,
And, the Saint came alone and stood, deep within a forest,
Amongst a whole convocation of wolves.
Francis was mild even as the wolves encircled him,
Their yellow eyes bulging.
He had guessed their intent, 'I am poor meat for such proud wolves'
'You'll do!' said the head wolf;
'To kill is a sin' said the Saint;
'Not for us.' said the head wolf 'For us it's a living!'
'Have you tried fruit?' said Francis.
'Nothing to it that crackles and tears in the jaw!' said the head wolf.
'I will bake you bread.' Said the Saint
'We have smelt bread' said the head wolf
'It is nothing but air warmed and crusted,
Entirely wrong for wolves.' And the thronged wolves
Began to close on the Saint.
But one young wolf spoke up
'I'd like to try the fruit and bread'
— for he admired the fact the Saint had come alone
Without knotted cudgels and firebrands
And not a whiff of Doomspike —
The head wolf, who was truly developing a taste for sainted meat,
Turned on the young wolf, leapt upon him,
And tore the throat from his living body.
The Saint said nothing, but moved slowly forward,
Bent down, and laid the tips of his fingers across
The head of the dead wolf.
A ferocious snarl rose among the wolves,
But even as they snarled they began to look, one to the other,
And slowly, in piecemeal fashion,
All of them fell silent,
And they turned and skulked off, round-shouldered,
Heads down, tails dragging like lead behind them.


Grant FraserGrant Fraser is a lawyer, poet and filmmaker. His collection of poetry Some Conclusion in the Heart was published by Black Willow Press. His film Syllable to Sound was recently shown on ABC Television.

 

Topic tags: Grant Fraser, Francis of Assisi, new Australian poems, Sistered by Death, falling, wolves

 

 

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Existing comments

I'm glad you have begun to have poetry read, it is the only way to encounter poetry. At the phrase "among the best of birdsong" a magpie began to sing outside the back door.
Carol | 02 September 2008


Thank you to Grant Fraser. For the first time with poetry published in Eureka Street, I listened before reading and found this a great help to reflection on the poetry.
Maryrose Dennehy | 02 September 2008


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