St. Columbanus

St Columbanus_Melissa Carmon 800 px.jpg

Was true what they said
about you?
but that doesn’t matter now
the roll of the sea
the ocean, and its tension- top waves
and all is forgiven.

It might seem an odd sort of thing
this bread, this beer
I labored with them
not here
but a lifetime of labor
muscles and veins
the sun is so hot
the kindest miracle
is bread and beer for men
with hands covered in earth
worn and thick fingers

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

there are secrets in Ireland
secrets everyone knows
but whether good or bad
we couldn’t exactly tell you
things to be reckoned with

but anyway
the Irish
when lit they are coals
that never die
and a burning firebrand
went out into the darkness

it was true
that with twelve willing men
the world can be turned
on its head
the darkness is deep
but twelve burning twigs
can overcome it

and you laced fire
through the hills and hamlets
those old roman ruins
the shell of a skull wedged on a hillside
with stairs running over it
the sea could not hold you
the Irish windswept wilds
the whole of the european continent
as dark as a secret
as dark as a tangled forest
as dark as a land of graveyards
as dark as a field at night
did not, could not deter you
it merely beckoned. 

And men with darkness in their eyes
men who had forgotten
recognized you
they saw you were no stranger to hard work
that you saw and knew and understood
that you had been round the whole world

by your fruits you will know them
by the taste and the sound
and like Adam, Adam by the sweat of your brow
you tilled the brown earth like a necessity
and there you sowed the seeds
a farmer among men

by your fruits you will know them
and they saw you, world weathered
but standing tall, with your head bowed
like ripe grain. 

And what, you asked
what will you gain
if in finding the whole world
but loose your only soul?

the old monk Columbanus
sworn enemy of a Spanish princess
a blood-emboldened, embittered woman
his earth-heavy hands
and level gaze
stood between her and a kingdom. 

and 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

the old monk Columbanus
sworn enemy of a Spanish princess
crossed the alps, the sunny hillsides
like gems, and 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 been considered an old man, he departed Ireland with twelve other men, and they journeyed to the mainland of Europe.  They resurrected a Roman ruin-- an abandoned castle at Luxeuil-- and labored to create arable farmland in a thickly forested area.  Their sparse but dedicated lifestyle was so attractive that they had 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.  She had Columbanus exiled, but the ship that was to bear him back to Ireland met with a storm that caused the captain decided to take Columbanus back to the mainland.  Instead of returning to the area, Columbanus, then a very old man, eventually crossed the Alps, and eventually settled in Italy. 

Melissa Carmon