Patchwork cloak


The crypt of the Basilica in Assisi:
behind glass a rough, patched robe,
no, a robe of patches, “beast-colored.”
It’s king-sized, but labeled as 
the ascetic’s — Saint Francis.

In the corner, filigreed reliquaries: 
spidery bones and flaps of pemmican 
pried from the corpses of clerics 
and other saints centuries past. 
Reliquary of the thorn 
of the crown of thorns. Reliquary 
of the hair of Saint Catherine. 
Relic of the finger of Saint Andrew. 

It is purport. It could be an ape 
finger for all we know, displayed 
by canny, enraptured, or even credulous 
priests: for the flock’s tithes and offerings, 
prayers, and pleas for dispensation. 
For the continued fame of their parish 
and of course 
the glory of the Faith . . . . 

Splinters of the True Cross cross 
the empire, rusted nails and spots 
of someone’s blood. There’s the slab 
of marble in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher, 
submitting to the lips of prostrated millions, 
although I learn “This is not 
the stone on which Christ’s body was anointed. 
This devotion is recorded only since the 12th century. 
The present stone dates from 1810.”  

Myth is believed, promulgated, 
nurtured, notated, accepted. No one 
knows whether Francis was thin or obese. 
Paintings exist by the hundreds of his imagined 
gaunt frame, but the vast robe’s displayed 
right there. Who is mistaken? Perhaps 
no one is, and Francis was humbly 
dwarfed by his tunic.
Another one in Florence has been proven 
fake and one in Cortona is merely 
plausible.  The Assisi relic 
“has not yet been tested.”

At La Verna, monks pace the tiled loggia
even now in brown wool. Winter fog 
enrobes the cliffside where Francis 
is said to have huddled in a niche 
while Satan harangued and scarred him 
through a storm. You can see the spot, 
barely large enough to contain 
my shivering ten-year-old daughter.

Far more believable are the humble ledgers
casually out of sight in an armoire
in the Volterra seminary-turned-hostel,
their frail pages inked with scrawled numbers,
400-year-old book-keeping, scrupulous, 
humdrum and thoroughly ungilded.


In my town, an “Apothecary and Metaphysical Shop”
evokes the past, or its hypothesis. Kitty-
corner, a new steel dragon overlooks 
the roof of an antiques mall with its horde of junk 
and ephemera from my past, my parents’ 
and theirs. What can I infer from such artifacts? 
Their picture of history is idealistic, patched 
and piecemeal, surmised, signage and objects 
without context, cloaked in enigmatic clues 
of stains, scuffs, creases. 

The world is a reliquary. Dusty 
centuries from now, will these words 
exist? Will someone find a scrap 
and peruse it like a knuckle bone 
of a “typical American,” 
let alone “me”?  

At home I stockpile albums of Daguerreotypes, 
Grandma’s jewelry, drawers of letters, unpublished 
manuscripts by my parents and great-grandfather. 
The documents and relics they left 
— the aspects they chose to preserve or hide 
of their own lives and thoughts — 
I weigh against the people I knew, 
study and assay which truth, if any, 
the story supports, and who might fit 
the patchwork cloak.

Sean Bentley | Apophenia
Contents | Mudlark No. 72 (2021)