The Passion of St. Francis

by Mary Baylor

When I cast off my brocade robe and my father’s
     love with it the color of scarlet flamed in his tightened
fist and I saw how naked was the world I was in and even
     the arthritic bishop’s hand quivered on my shoulder
with the words I said and I knew that the season of lilies was
     at hand like the fingers of the leper whom I refused
to help when I watched him crouching a gray bundle raveling
     away his skin and I turned my horse towards him and
felt the ravages of fear I had within and I knew that
     to pass this man was precious loss so I pressed my stallion
forward tiny bells on its girdle and I saw then the sweetness of the
     wedding banquet I would miss and the scent of jasmine and
roses my bride would never wear or the pleasures of
     the bed when at dawn I would admire her lengths of auburn hair
and I watched the stallion’s nostrils flare at the stink of his flesh
     while the road twisted towards him and the stones
rang like the armor I once wore and the cups of wine I spilled into
     my lover’s faithless lips soft and darting as the stars and how
I plotted for so little when my father’s men cried out as I reckless
     sold the gentling folds of amber satin and velvet bolts
from my father’s hoard to women hungry for the feel of small
     pleasures and stepping down I saw how his begging bowl
rimmed with sunlight shone beside his gnawed hand and how in
     his eyes rheumy with sickness there a church rubbled now
rose and hidden from my face I divined something simpler how
     stone by stone I might sing a sanctuary into place
crying out repair repair and bless the canticles of this face this sun
     and kiss embrace the body blessed and bowed
until such miracles in time when in the shadow’s silence
     all things are drawn to my breast and the snowy paw of a wolf
hungry for flesh would one day rest within my outstretched palm.