Heidish (A Misplaced Woman, 2016, etc.) presents an account of St. Francis of Assisi’s life, as told from his father’s perspective in poetic form.
St. Francis is known as a saint who believed in living the Gospel, gave sermons to birds, and tamed a wolf. Over the course of 84 poems, Heidish tells her own fictionalized version of the saint’s journey. In his youth, Francesco is an apprentice of his father, Pietro Bernardone, a fabric importer. The boy is a sensitive dreamer and nature lover who sees “natural holiness in every living thing.” As an adult, Francesco decides to pursue knighthood, but God warns him to “Go back, child / Serve the master.” He joins the Church of San Damiano, steals his father’s storeroom stock, and sells it to rebuild the church. His furious father chains him in the cellar, and the bishop orders Francesco to repay the debt. Afterward, father and son stop speaking to each other; Francesco becomes a healer of the sick and a proficient preacher. After failing to broker a peace agreement during wartime, Francesco falls into depression and resigns his church position. He retreats to the mountains and eventually dies; it’s only then that Pietro becomes a true follower of St. Francis: “You are the father now and I the son / learning still what it means to be a saint,” he says. Heidish’s decision to tell this story from Pietro’s perspective is what makes this oft-told legend seem fresh again. She uses superb similes and metaphors; for example, at different points, she writes that St. Francis had eyes like “lit wicks” and a spirit that “shone like a clean copper pot.” In another instance, she describes the Church of San Damiano as a place in which “walls crumbled / like stale dry bread.” Following the poems, the author also offers a thorough and engaging historical summary of the real life of St. Francis, which only adds further context and depth to the tale.
An emotional, captivating Christian story in verse.