Excerpt from Chlora’s Grand DeTour: Assisi
Draft 1, Feb. 2014, copyright Ginger Henry Geyer
Chlora is on a tour of Assisi
and ventures away from the crowd...
The tour bus dumped them off
at the bottom of a steep hill.
But the walk up was sweetly rewarded by a view.
Yes, it was another cathedral, but this one settled
fittingly into its spot, like a volunteer wildflower.
Or maybe it was more like an olive tree,
twisted around the boulders
that defined the place,
working its way into crevices,
appearing to be two things instead of one.
A big crowd was streaming
into the upper part of church
so they followed. It was packed inside.
Somewhere up front a choir was singing,
but Chlora couldn’t see it.
The walls were singing too.
She blinked as images of St. Francis
came into view over the heads of the crowd.
In one scene he gave his cloak to a beggar,
in another he got stigmatized.
That had to hurt.
And no way band-aids would
stick to the palms of your hands.
Best of all was the fresco of him
feeding the birds, which was his
way of preaching.
Chlora wished the preacher at home
would do that and she made a mental note
to give him some birdseed.
Suddenly, as if emerging from the music,
several friars in plain brown robes
came running down the center aisle in pairs,
each upholding a large basket.
they twirled through the crowd
and their joy spread throughout the nave
as people reached up into the baskets.
Chlora couldn’t tell what they were being given
until the basket came nearer.
She got nearer and saw that olives branches
were being distributed.
This must be their way of passing the peace.
She took one too, and vowed to bring it home
where it was needed.
Despite those agricultural laws,
she would sneak it through customs.
Back outside, they walked uphill again
to another church, this one for
Francis’ girlfriend, Clare.
Well, maybe she wasn’t really a girlfriend,
as they say back then that men and women
could be soul mates and that was it.
The famous cross that spoke to St. Francis
was in Clare’s church.
The cross wasn’t all that big
and it had a nice awkwardness about it.
St. Clare’s body and a bunch of relics
were in the basement
but Chlora didn’t really want to see them.
Her tour group could gape all they wanted to,
but surely Clare would be embarrassed
about all that attention.
Chlora supposed all that stuff--
the cloaks and shoes and bones and hair
helps out people who are striving so hard.
Maybe such material proof convinces
people that saints were human too,
or maybe it is just something tangible
to hang faith upon.
Does it really take all this for us to access God?
Why not just sit outside
and soak up some beauty?
A simple picnic was set out for the group.
Sandwiches made out of hard salami
and even harder rolls.
A warm can of thick juice. And apples.
Chlora turned up her nose at the sandwiches
and went for the apple basket instead.
A napkin was tucked around each,
and she took two.
She wandered away from the tour group,
stepped under the wooden fence slats
and stumbled down the rocky hill
among the rows of olive trees.
They moved in sync with the breeze,
each leaf fluttering its silver underside.
She could just see Francis there,
sitting in the olive grove.
He must’ve known
he’d need a heavy dose of beauty
to exist in his world of lepers, caves,
Lady Poverty, and crazy crusaders.
Only farmers who had no choice
would plant an orchard here.
Or perhaps they did it just to offer bella vistas.
Italians just do things like that.
The tour guide said olive trees prefer rugged land
and some are as old as Jesus.
If she were in the Holy Land, this spread
might be his garden of Gethsemane,
at the base of the Mount of Olives.
Like Francis, Jesus knew how to
pick a pretty place when he was in agony.
Maybe that’s where the olive leaves
got their shimmer, from the torch light that
came to take Jesus away.
Or perhaps they soak up sunlight like a solar fixture.
Their soft rustle gave an assurance that all would be well
even though all his friends fell asleep
and the betrayer was coming.
This had to be the most peaceful place on earth,
hidden down here away from the crowds
clamoring over the replicas of San Damiano crosses
in the souvenir stands, when the real thing was
just up the hill, quietly tended to by St. Clare.
She wished she’d brought a sandwich now
so she could feed the bread to the birds.
Several were chirping and flitting around,
ancestors of those who had been preached to
right in this same spot on earth,
amid the olive trees.
And their ancestors probably
went all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
Perhaps they retained a bit of memory of that,
maybe they saw what really happened
when Adam and Eve got kicked out.
Chlora plucked a warm, green olive off the tree.
It didn’t have a little red thingey down the middle
like all the ones she’d tried before.
She bit into it. Gads!
It was worse than an unripe persimmon!
Her mouth puckered up and she had to devour
an entire apple to get rid of that taste.
Supposedly we all yearn
to get back to the Garden,
and get a second chance with apples.
Chlora reconsidered that.
Gardens might look serene,
but they are risky places.
Just ask Adam and Eve
Or even St. Francis.
He lives in lots of gardens
back home, frozen in place like a statue,
whereas here in Assisi
he was constantly out and about
looking for places
where there was hatred,
so he could sow love.