Cibola 28

This entry is part 28 of 119 in the series Cibola


Marcos (1) (cont’d)

Not that Marcos had ever sought
such loyalty: Christ shall be
sole Master of the New World–
that World, he still maintained, that is
Not Yet–& of course our father
& brother the shoeless saint . . .
Whom they took to, he realizes now,
for reasons that had little to do
with the Gospel, or a love of poverty.
They adored his bleeding hands,
his legendary converse with bird & beast,
with highwayman & angel . . .

One language? Francisco would warble, grinning
as Frere Marc de Nice struggled
in his barbarous Castillian to explain
the Pentecost. And how often then
they’d ask about the Canticle–
a mystery to him how the news of it
had spread. Perhaps the doing
of an unrepentant schismatic, one
of the so-called Spirituals. Or worse:
some unconverted Jew, a wolf
in friar’s garb.
Making sure every native priest & scribe
confounded the saint’s visions
with their own empty fantasies. The very
title of his hagiography, “Little Flowers
of St. Francis,” had they heard it,
could only have given credence
to Indian superstitions of a Flower World
awaiting the souls of warriors slain in battle.
He remembers the innumerable
late-night arguments: he and the Dominican
Bartolomé de Las Casas, self-appointed
advocate for the Indians, swearing
they had songs & stories to equal
the pagan Greeks, even making
excuses for their bloodletting,
their abominable sodomy–
How can a just Lord condemn them
if they’ve never heard the Gospel?

And Marcos tongue-tied as always
would simply nod. The clarity
that comes with strong convictions
was something he could only pray for.
Bartolomé had indeed been blessed.

But Who–he wanted to ask his friend–
Who sends the pox?
The fevers that merely sickened Christians
killed Indians like flies–
or like the Egyptians, when Pharaoh
refused to acknowledge
the divine Word.


the shoeless saint: i.e., St. Francis

his bleeding hands: Francis was the first saint to receive the stigmata. In this and in several other respects, he can be viewed almost as a second Christ. In native Mesoamerica, blood was viewed as the preeminent medium of exchange between humans and divinities – in a sense, it was the fuel of the cosmos.

the Canticle: St. Francis’ praise poem to “Master Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon,” “Our Sister Death,” etc. Considered the first work of literature in the Italian language. Three different translations are available here.

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