POETRY: Francis Meets A Leper by David Citino

Francis Meets A Leper by David Citino

He heard the bell toll, erratic
in a palsied hand, and smelled
the goatish scent before he saw
the figure moving in mist on the road
to Assisi, a traveler gloved and shod,
as was the law, to hide the sores,
a man’s inhumanity, missing fingers
and toes, and tried to unmask the face,
slack muscles showing nothing
but astonishment, lower lids keeping
eyes open always to our providential decay,
flesh soft and thick as rotten wood.
Francis saw in bleary eyes, near to him
as his mother’s as she loved him,
a brother, then someone dearer, wrapped
as he’d seen others in his father’s cloth
that first had profited English shepherds
and the weavers of Ghent, a skin
bleached white as bone, a flower blazing
in snow, so close to perfection it could
only decay. Francis did the only thing
he could, sun rising high enough now
to burn away the mist. He unwrapped
the face, studying lineaments fashioned
by a master’s hand, image and likeness
of the death that beautifies all living.
He closed his eyes and kissed.

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