The message Saint Francis preached to the birds,
Though not recorded, isn't beyond surmising.
He wanted his fellow creatures to taste the joy
Of singing the hymns he sang on waking,
Hymns of thanksgiving that praised creation.
Granted, the birds had problems with comprehension,
But maybe they'd grasped enough of his earnest tone
To feel that spring shouldn't be taken lightly.
An audience hard to hold, to be sure,
With a narrow attention span, a constant fluttering,
But a lot less challenging than the nun he counseled
Only this morning, a woman still young,
Dying slowly in pain, who asked him
Why if her suffering had a purpose
That purpose couldn't be clarified in a vision.
Why not at least some evidence
That the greater the suffering reserved for her
The smaller the portion reserved for others?
What a balm to be able to think as Jesus did,
That with every difficult breath of hers
Patients in sickbeds around the world
Suddenly found they were breathing easier.
What a relief for Saint Francis these birds are,
Free of the craving for explanation, for certainty
Even in winter, when the grass is hidden. "Look!"
He calls to them, pointing. "Those black specks
There in the snow are seed husks. Think
As you circle down how blessed you are."
But what can he point to in the nun's spare cell
To keep her from wondering why it's so hard
For the king of heaven to comfort her?
All she can manage now is to hope for the will
Not to abandon her god, if he is her god,
In his hour of weakness. No time to reply
To the tender homily at her bedside
As she gathers all her strength for the end,
Hoping to cry out briefly as Jesus did
When his body told him he was on his own.
- Carl Dennis
(I recently bought a used copy of Carl's New and Selected Poems: 1974-2004, and man oh man, these poems are changing my life. I know when Holly introduced me to "The God Who Loves You" back in 2007 that he was amazing, but I continue to be floored by his poetry the more I read of it.)