Patchwork cloak

Patchwork cloak


The crypt of the Basilica in Assisi:
behind glass a rough, patched robe,
no, a robe of patches, “beast-colored,”
king-sized, labeled as
the ascetic’s—Saint Francis.

In the corner, filigreed reliquaries:
spidery bones and flaps of pemmican
pried from the corpses of clerics
and other saints centuries past.
Reliquary of the thorn
of the crown of thorns. Reliquary
of the hair of Saint Catherine.
Relic of the finger of Saint Andrew.

It is purport. It could be an ape
finger for all we know, displayed
by canny, enraptured, or even credulous
priests: for the flock’s tithes and offerings,
prayers, and pleas for dispensation.
For the continued fame of their parish
and of course the glory of the Faith....

Splinters of the True Cross cross
the empire, rusted nails and spots
of someone’s blood. There’s the slab
of marble in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher,
submitting to the lips of prostrated millions,
although I learn “This is not
the stone on which Christ’s body was anointed.
This devotion is recorded only since
the 12th century. The present stone dates from 1810.”

The myth is believed, promulgated,
nurtured, notated, accepted. No one
knows whether Francis was thin or obese.
Paintings exist by the hundred of his imagined
gaunt frame, but the vast robe’s displayed
right there. Who is mistaken? Perhaps
no one is, and Francis was humbly
dwarfed by his tunic.
Another one in Florence has been proven
fake and one in Cortona is merely plausible.
The Assisi relic has not yet been tested.

At La Verna, monks pace the tiled loggia
in brown wool. Winter fog enrobes the cliffside
where Francis is said to have huddled in a niche
while Satan harangued and scarred him
through a storm. You can see the spot,
barely large enough to contain
my shivering ten-year-old daughter.

Far more believable are the humble ledgers
casually out of sight in an armoire
in the Volterra seminary-turned-hostel,
their frail pages inked with scrawled numbers,
400-year-old book-keeping, scrupulous,
humdrum and thoroughly ungilded.


In my town, an “Apothecary and Metaphysical Shop”
evokes the past, or its hypothesis. Kitty-
corner, a new steel dragon overlooks
the roof of an antiques shop with its horde of junk
and ephemera from my past, my parents
and theirs. What can I infer from such artifacts?
Their picture of history is idealistic, patched
and piecemeal, surmised, signage and objects
without context, cloaked in enigmatic clues
of stains, scuffs, creases.

The world is a reliquary. Dusty
centuries from now, will these words
exist? Will someone find a scrap
and peruse it like a knuckle bone
of a “typical American,” let alone “me”?

At home I stockpile albums of Daguerrotypes,
Grandma’s jewelry, drawers of letters, unpublished
manuscripts of my parents and great-grandfather.
The documents and relics they left
—the aspects they chose to preserve or hide
of their own lives and thoughts—
I weigh against the people I knew,
study and assay which truth, if any,
the story supports, and who might fit
the patchwork cloak.

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