In Santa Croce: Notes On and Off Decoration
With this map I stood in front of the death
of Saint Francis.
I was upright he was prone (dead or at least
We formed a cross, St F and I in the Cappella Bardi.
Everything I possessed
you could put your finger on.
The saint had
in attendance a keyboard of monks and the great hand
I tacked around
the flagstoned floor-saints together with
the new footsteps
of a girl who back home was enrolled at
as it happened
the academy they called St Francis. On pet day she took
a rabbit to school.
To avoid the dead we (daughter and I) made
a Bargello pattern.
The chapter heading
II. In Santa Croce with no Baedeker
I had with me in
Santa Croce with no Baedeker, and all of Forster
in English in general jostling behind me
like souls like
a soup kitchen. It is all in the library, I said and looked
at the saint
lying dying and felt sorry for him
for all the saints
plying their various trades
objects, hopeless cases, travellers, and in the case
of St F
the rabbit-in-Italian we might otherwise
had it not been for daughter’s
over my dead body.
before Christmas c1967 Mrs Basile no Old Mrs Basile
towards me during Mass and kissed a deckle-edged
of the infant Jesus with dried flowers
from Italy and gave it to me.
I took it. By
the time of the next Mass (Christmas) she was dead. This was
all the way
across the world in Island Bay, Wellington, New Zealand.
I took it. It was summer in Italy I was peeling
lightly. A plaque
in the Basilica informed us that St Francis
et al had been
plastered over during renovations and stayed that way
for 200 years.
The communion of saints had been too pretty
(here of course I recall Forster’s working characters
who I might
well have been one of had my ancestors not
of the novel and booked a passage
to the colony).
Conservators chipped the saints free, and the angels, but some
of Saint Francis’s Life
came away leaving what was there before decoration
and no decoration.
Before we flew out
Letizia gave us a pop-out map of Florence its streets
her grandmother sitting in a plain-ornate room
there. We would have nothing but
to pass the time of day.
Turning from Cappella Bardi
you will see Galileo
and the other hard men of Santa Croce stuck fast
in their bodies. Their souls
if they exist (here’s hoping!) might pick their way, aloof
where light rushes in.
(There were two men on a high scaffold dinging at the altar.)
But the poet:
not for dust! His tomb empty apart from
about the artist: your renown is the color of the grass.
Also the Chair
of Department (Italian) gave us a map and Cindy
and Someone a long time ago gave Dante as if to say
Here’s Heaven and Hell, etc
should you ever
need them. They sat for a long time as things put by in a freezer.
Someone said Hell
has frozen over and I laughed
but it had not,
it was still (as Maurice Sendak said to the reader of wild things)
In the beginning
black mantillas formed a bloc beside white panama hats
in the concrete church,
the crack of new pews settling rang out into the silence
like a sign.
There was singing, and a long time, years, to suck on
modernist stained glass,
the jellybean toes of Jesus, his cartoon cross,
his blank stare.
In the odd corner retro statues from the old dark church
(which they sold
to the Serbian Orthodox who turned it golden)
wore fine hands
and expressions of empathy – oh yes I know, this jolly life!
of holy pictures by the masters was shuffled and dealt out
like patience on a blond pew,
bartered at Communion time by a circle of under-sevens.
The trump card
Jesus with real flowers and a deckle-edge
while the air droned with a sort of poetry.
I never swapped it.
Once a year they blessed the Italian fishing fleet.
priest speaking the runny language,
and the taste
of salt as the boats clustered. Later in the church hall,
ladies a Pakeha plate.
Finally (yes, the end, fini, finito, finished),
this Life (of the saint)
the steady hand (of the artist), the grass (of the poet)
(of the master plasterer), the translation (again, from the poet):
take it all away! I can’t stand that it will ever
Recorded 2008 by Anne Kennedy in Honolulu.
in memoriam, Alan Brunton
Use no words but the sound of
recite and as the sea rolls in
returning from its secret life
away and bringing
exotic bits and exotic
realise this really is the sea and not just
a tally of cold waves or numbering
of days. It will shake
its shaggy head, haul itself from
the depths, raise a voice
insistent -- argh! –
against the high wind.
No tears (lacrimosa)
but a body of water and the way a sound
travelled across it much
faster than on land, in big
bounds. If there was a storm
you would see a man
and seagulls sheltering in the inlet
of the Island Bay library
searching for clues among
what the sea brought, searching
on behalf of the general
populace, who go about their business
thinking it was god
and sometimes thanking god
for the great good fortune
of the sea
From ‘When you give so much’: Some Recollections of Alan Brunton. nzepc, 2002.
Recorded 2008 by Anne Kennedy in Honolulu.