Letters To Saint Francis

51XDLCZG4uL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_He likes to hang out in gardens and hold up bird baths, but Saint Francis is more than a decorative statue.

That’s one of the messages of Abigail Carroll’s A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-day Pilgrim. In it she sends a series of messages to the beloved (and frequently cast in concrete) thirteenth-century saint. Each is a letter in the form of a poem.

The title’s reference to larks is appropriate, because Saint Francis had a special affinity for these plain, brown birds, which to him symbolized humility and simplicity (and of course their beautiful song is an added bonus). It’s said that when Francis died on October 3, 1226, larks gathered in the skies above him, honoring one of their own who was going home.

In the introduction to her book, Carroll writes: “Each letter is an invitation bidding the life of this holy man from Assisi to speak for itself. Together, they prove his humanness, poke fun at the sentimentality surrounding his persona, and attempt to parse man and saint—getting under his halo, so to speak.”

In her poems she addresses Francis in a variety of ways, each indicating some aspect of his life. They include: Dear Dreamer, Dear Lord of the Revels, Dear Lover of Lady Poverty, Dear Wolf-whisperer, Dear Lover of Solitude, Dear Wounded Saint.

St. Francis Preaching to the Birds by Giotto
St. Francis Preaching to the Birds, by Giotto (Wikimedia Commons image)

At the beginning of the book, a short biography gives enough background on Francis’ life so that even readers who aren’t familiar with him can set the poems in context.

Carroll’s poems are accessible, heartfelt, and often wryly humorous. Here, for example, is one of my favorites:

Dear Francis, Patron Saint of Gardens and Lawns,

Among begonias and bleeding hearts

in suburban backyards, you hold out rain-filled

bowls.

on the rims of which perch cardinals,

jays, sparrows, finches, robins, wrens. They dip

and roll

their thin-boned wings, fluff plumage

in tiny bursts of pride, send droplets through

the air

like shining bits of glass. Patient

as a saint, you stay perfectly still. In fact,

you never

actually move, which is why

they consider you a friend. You preside over

lawn grass

and mulch, lilies and hostas and vetch,

patios and hammocks and winding slate paths,

gazing balls

and lantern gnomes. I imagine you have seen

a few pink flamingos in your life, not to mention

pinwheels

and Christmas lights. You happily

make room for blue-robed Madonnas in bathtub

shrines

and praying cherubs hidden among

the ferns. As for your form, you come in resin

and stone,

cast concrete, even bronze.

You’re frost-proof and color-fast, your sculpted

tunic unruffled

by the breeze, your palms turned up

in prayer, a dove on your arm, a lamb at your feet.

Francis,

I saw you once for sale at Gardener’s Supply

preaching to hose-reels, marigolds, ornamental

deer.

With devotion,

(Abigail)

(CC0 Public Domain photo)
(CC0 Public Domain photo)

A Gathering of Larks will make you look at those ubiquitous garden statues in a different way.


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