St. Columbanus

St Columbanus_Melissa Carmon 800 px.jpg


1. Prequel
None of matters now, what they said
it washes out with the
the roll of the sea
and the ocean covers all

2. Miracles
It might seem an odd sort of thing
this bread, this beer
I labored with them
a lifetime of labor
muscles and veins

In August
the kindest miracle
is bread and beer for men
with hands covered in earth
with worn and thick fingers

men who do not know words
only heat, only grain
only the heavy heft
of hauling, swinging and bending
of hauling, bending, lifting
no sound except of insects
whose music-less rounds
of rubbing wings sound
like sizzling in the sun
delirious with exertion
men of dirt
bring forth the harvest

3. Homeland

Everyone knows the Irish
what kind of fire 
burns on those lonesome hills
red hearts in a land emerald
a chilling fog
sweeps around the rocks

There are secrets in Ireland
secrets everyone knows
but whether good or bad
whether truth of legend
we couldn’t exactly say

the Irish, lit coals that never die
and you, Columbanus, a burning firebrand
went out into the darkness

It was true
that with twelve willing men
the world can be turned
on its head
twelve burning branches

With them, you laced fire 
through the hills and hamlets
those old Roman ruins
the sea could not hold you
nor the Irish windswept wilds
The European continent:
as dark as a secret
as a tangled forest
a land of graveyards or
a field at night
the darkness did not deter you
—it merely beckoned

4. Turning
And in an old Roman ruin
like a skull wedged into a hillside
men with darkness in their eyes
recognized you

like a mill wheel
the reckless stream of life
was put to use
in you they saw themselves
no stranger to hard work
you had walked the whole world round

and they saw you, world weathered 
standing tall, with your head bowed
like ripe grain

5. Princesses

A woman with a serpent tongue
for whom murders
were mere inconveniences
and against her the world shuddered
swallowed hard

Lovers, children: her accessories
accounts to receive deposits
or drain
ten kings she had consumed

the old monk Colombanus
with his earth-heavy hands
and level gaze
stood between her and a kingdom

The old monk Columbanus
did not bend

6. Exile

The sea spat him back up upon the land
and the captain, a man of salt blown hair
weathered face and good sense
knew how to read the tension top waves
knew how to read the stars in the inky heavens
knew how to read a sign

and instead of returning to Ireland
the old monk Columbanus
sworn enemy of a Spanish princess
crossed the Alps 

their sunny hillsides, gleamed like gems,
as he followed the road to Italy


Historical Background:
Columbanus (543-615 CE) was born in Ireland, and took up a monastic calling.  When he would have already been considered an older man, he departed Ireland with twelve men, and they journeyed to the mainland of Europe.  They resurrected a Roman ruin in a remote area of the Vosges mountains.  Later their monastery grew in numbers and also lived in abandoned castle at Luxeuil, where they labored to create arable farmland out of uncultivated land.  Their sparse but dedicated lifestyle attracted many more followers who wanted to to join them than their space would allow.  In the course of these events, Columbanus came into conflict with Queen Brunehault (Brunehild) of Austrasia, whose cruelty and lust for sovereignty inspired legends.  He was taken captive, but managed to escape.  Brunhilda arranged to have Columbanus exiled by force to Ireland.  However, after setting sail, the ship met with a storm that caused the captain decided to take Columbanus back to the mainland.  Instead of returning to Luxeuil, Columbanus, then a very old man, eventually crossed the Alps.  He settled in Italy, where he lived the remainder of his life.