Last week I walked the Via Francigena,
found the portals the medieval pilgrims took.
I felt safe in walls within walls.
Before Galileo the pace was slower
as no one knew the sickening speed
of the earth around the sun.
If you stepped off
you would shrink to nothing –
I don’t think you would even see
the planet disappear.
Inside I could hear
the soldiers in the cathedral
the night in twelve sixty –
the priest, the smoky incantation.
Even the mercenaries parked their smirks,
bowed like widows deep in the nave,
ceded to the rumble of prayer;
vowing their city to the Virgin,
their white silk banners
catching the wind like flames,
circling the night like a halo.
My mother was a Marion.
We can’t evoke the pilgrim’s dust
rising to form the Milky Way,
guiding disciples to the field of stars,
the Black Death, the magic of salvation,
Canterbury to Rome
by the Rule of the Nine *
Siena the new paradise.
Latin liturgy lost,
the church in the echo of black rain,
hollow in the varnished light,
prayer trapped like riverweed.
All winter I slept on a narrow cot,
dreamt of swimmers, their cries
sinking in the night sea;
a man I had to kill,
the long arc of the spear,
my wail as I rounded the stadium field.
*Nine Governors of Siena, 1285 to 1355.