A long poem (went over big when I did it at a reading, see if you dig it)
THE APOCRYPHAL GOSPEL OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI
(Translated from the Italian)
I. Saint Francis and the Little Birds
To the little birds that fluttered down from the treetops
to light upon his hands and arms and head,
the sweet Saint Francis said, “Ooga booga,”
Which translates roughly as:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
“Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
“Where there is injury, pardon,
“Where there is doubt, faith,
“Where there is despair, hope,
“Where there is darkness, light, and where there is sadness, joy.
“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
“To be understood, as to understand;
“To be loved, as to love;
“For it is in giving that we receive—
“It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
“And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life—
And when the people gathered and gawked motionless,
the good saint said, “What’s with all these statues, hey?
“Did Medusa pay a call?
“Frankie say RELAX, there are no baboons in the road,
“much less Ben E. King in muslin and lace,
“puddling holy water at genuflection,
“wheeling around the nave at vespers,
“lighting votive candles in big stabs of confusion
“under the pained gaze of Christ on the Cross
“with that beautifully toned swimmer’s body of His.”
II. Saint Francis Addresses the Blondes
Theseus the wild bore faced and killed a monstrous wild sow
with tusks larger and sharper than sickles;
and why? For the love of a blonde.
For the love of a blonde,
my heart is a pinwheel;
Blame the nod; blame the “X,” “Y,” and “Z.”
Blonde me no blondes,
blonde me no blondes no more no thanks—
A lemon to a lime,
an orange to a tangerine—
I can’t taste much difference when the lights are turned off—
A raven to a crow?
Beauty slams shut,
She don’t return calls—
Pretty little thing, that’s CHARming.
Beautiful girls would have you believe the glasses never slip from their noses—
That they don’t come in plain brown wrappers.
I’m a sucker for blondes with bleak blue pools—
Beauty lifts the latch, swings the gate, dips a toe—
Splish splash sploosh—
Lets you drown your love in hopes of a glorious resurrection.
And I’m a sucker for a Catholic girl in a plaid skirt,
a pocketful of rosary beads unstrung—
Popsicle fingers, milk and honey on the way—
Blondes, real blondes, golden blondes,
dipped in honey at birth (held by the heel)—anointed in honey—
You sink me in your honeycomb, your catacomb,
you sink me sunk.
All you blondes know what you’re doing—
Don’t send me that postcard you promised,
don’t lend me that book you promised;
I’m old and I’m fat, forget my birthday—
No shot of Jamieson’s with you, blondie—
Don’t touch me when my fingertips burn with lust.
Little white elbows on the table,
little white knees underneath—
So square dance and safe,
so charming and chaste,
but within the curves of your hips no talent goes to waste.
I just wanna crawl into your bosom,
fall asleep in the bed of your heart,
wake up with well-rumpled sheets and blonde hair in my mouth,
But meantime blonde me no blondes.
III. The Secret Loneliness of Saint Francis
Cette maudite vie est impossible mais pour le bonhomie
et j’ai pas de bonhomie, pas de bonhomie tout les temps—
comme tout les garcons et les filles de mon age—(La la la)—
I say it in French ‘cause I’m shy—
(And I probably misspelled it, too).
The world’s great music box exchange—
Pretty ballerinas and velvet lining—
Where you know love non verbis sed rebus—
(Not by words but by things)—
Do you know love? Introduce me—
That’s as close as we come.
IV. The Late Night of Saint Francis
Friday night (or is it Saturday morning?)—
Anyway it’s two-thirty, maybe three a.m.,
and I am stepping out of the lit-up pub, admittedly lit up myself.
And there it is:
Luna up above, shining down, smooth and white upon Looney’s girls
(also smooth and white).
And there they are: sitting prettily in two white plastic chairs
facing out of the bed of a red GMC Sonoma pickup truck,
the radio turned up for faint accompaniment.
They are swaying to the lonesome rhythms of the early day/late night alcoholic haze—
At their feet—
They don’t take note of it, but at their feet there is a bag of charcoal,
maybe leftover from the Fourth of July.
The charcoal brings to my California brain
the image of a tailgate party at Jack Murphy Stadium:
The sun baking down on the black macadam and black tar—
The black lungs of smokers, too—
Shining down and reflected up, tanning you simultaneously from above and below,
Maybe even from within in that Southern California haze of undiluted sunshine.
So I ask one of Looney’s girls, the pretty one with sad blue eyes and a gleaming white icing smile,
what she does:
“Secretarial bitch work,” she says.
So I ask her what she wants to do
And she says, “Not that.”
V. The Confessions of Saint Francis
I was disillusioned long ago,
now I run the magic show.
Baby I love the way the bed creaks and squeals when we make love,
as if it knows how it feels when we make love—
As if it knows how we feel.
And honey I love the way you call me “baby” when we make love—
I’ve got the frosting but you take the cake, love, when we make love.
I'm on the line with Amsterdam,
flat across my bed,
with lazy mattress dreams
tumbling in my head.
I'm a curious cat
so of course I need to know
all about my kitten
and her new designer purse.
She's been drinking wine without me,
now she's laughing in my ear
while I wish that I were with her there
or she were with me here
The sun keeps setting,
the night keeps falling,
and I keep crawling
into bed to sleep alone.
I want to be so close to You
that Your whisper is a shout.
I want to be so close to You
that I breathe in what You breathe out.
Who stuck that spear in Your side anyway? And why?
VI. Saint Francis Addresses the Shy
See, now, I once had that selfsame problem—
Making loneliness into a savory, fleshy meal,
like the wonderful brutality of boxing on a big-screen television;
a Mexican in red trunks versus a Puerto Rican in white—
Every blow below the belt.
But then she looked right through me without even a glance,
with her X-ray specs and a heathenish, consecrated smack about her,
and wrote the words “sadness” and “mystery” and fit them on me like a collar—
and she called me shy and bought me a shot
when I lacked the nerve to buy her a drink or ask to her to go elsewhere with me—
(Maybe to look over my stamp collection?)—
And I blabbed about tramping through Europe,
unconsciously trying to make myself interesting—
I wanted her biography on a stack on clean white paper, double-spaced and legible,
and it was only fair to give a synopsis of my own.
I had that selfsame problem
And then the witchdoctor, he told me what to do—
Advice that I will now pass along:
Cut out your heart, cast it into the sea, let it be cured by sun and salt, let the sharks eat their fill,
and if it washes ashore throw it back for being too small.
VII. Saint Francis Consoles a Young Woman
On the day you were born they said you’d go pretty far—
But they never dreamed you’d get there in my car.
On the day that you left they knew you’d never come back—
Your mind was made up in the moment you began to pack.
On the day that they died nobody informed you—
They figured you must have better things to do—
You were a disappointment.
But put some straw from the manger in your wallet at Christmastime
and you’ll never go broke;
I thought everybody knew that,
but apparently the secret is safe with the Lithuanian and Polish churches
of eastern Pennsylvania.
VIII. The Lost Love of Saint Francis
The butterscotch light of the street lamps,
reflecting twofold intensity from the street’s ice sheath—
The sky completely black and starless but for white moon—
Snow-chilled, empty, deaf-mute four a.m. streets
crunching under my shoes
as I walk the dead center of this residential street
with a head full of the night’s faces—
Hoping I am heading south
To my motel room by the river and the warm bed that waits within.
And what about two men in a rubber raft?
And what about that water into wine trick guaranteed to break the ice at parties?
I put my hands
in the sink
and made like Pontius Pilate,
which is better than poking my finger
into His side
and making like Saint Thomas.
I remember her—
she pushed her fist through the core of her daddy’s birthday cake—
Daddy no more.
She said, “Gimme one good taste of shotgun
to prove that I’m alive.”
she sleeps better with a body beside her,
any warm male body will do.
I kept her bed warm two nights in a row,
that’s got to be some kind of record
my peculiar charm—
I never knew anybody who died—
(That’s a lie).
If I came to New York I know
she’d shuffle off to Buffalo
and if I made it through that snow
she’d still find somewhere else to go.
IX. The Unspeakable Visions of Saint Francis
I heard a trumpet blast and I saw disturbed haloes;
a hearty steak and a stake through the heart;
broken breakdancers clumped on the floor of an untidy public restrooms;
a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue sticky from teenage masturbation;
Cliff’s Notes for the Revelation of Saint John the Divine;
a record collection organized by genre,
and alphabetically by artist therein, and chronologically therein;
a flugelhorn left on a doorstep to drip dry after a hard rain;
a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes;
seven lampstands of gold;
feet gleaming like polished brass refined in a furnace;
a sickly green horse with a rider named Death;
two hundred million cavalry troops riding horses with heads like lions;
a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
empty milk cartons left in refrigerators;
a wild beast with ten horns and seven heads,
and on its horns ten diadems and on its heads blasphemous names;
a parade of Rosicrucians wearing party hats and playing kazoos;
weird poems written in a pseudo-Biblical fashion;
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed
by collegiate imitations of Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, and Kerouac;
and, finally, burning mounds of old tires clouding the air
until the sky fell black as sack cloth and I saw no more.
X. The Last Words of Saint Francis
Spake the saint: “The confessional ain’t easy on the knees;
“just seat me at the right hand.”
“Life could be a fricassee
“if you threw off your weary drapery
“and forty years of desert-wandering depression;
“life could be sugar water otters.”
Saint Francis was found dead in the religious studies section
of a used-book store in Lower Manhattan—
A perfectly good fish-on-Friday Catholic
fallen among the likes of Martin Luther and John Calvin—
It was never learned which killed him,
the bullet in the heart or the bullet in the head—
But roses bloomed all the same.