On Saturday we are heading off to Assisi, driving down through Provence, stopping off in San Remy. This was the town in which was the Asylum that Vincent Van Gogh spent a year in, between 1889 and 1890 and, extraordinarily, painted some of his most exquisite pictures. As my new poetry book – A Night Sea Journey which will be available from the day we arrive in Assisi, has two cycles of poems about Vincent and Francis it seems appropriate when I begin to launch the collection out into the world to make a pilgrimage to these places. Both of them had their own night sea journeys and they are such good companions to me on my own traverses of dark oceans. As we set off I want to share a poem from my first collection – The Call of the Unwritten entitled Song of a Motherless Son. It tells of another trip to Assisi the year after my Mother died that I made in 2007.
Song of a Motherless Son
I went to Assisi to recall my mother
one year after her lonely cross,
a need to evade sorrow’s smother
one year after my searing loss.
Carrying grief in my unwashed hair,
I came at night to the Umbrian plain.
The city of peace was glowing there,
a gleam of mercy through a squall of pain.
I trod the steps of Francis’s feet
and only went where I was led.
To open my soul I did not eat
but trudged uphill with an aching head.
There I found his weathered figure,
a bronze homage to holy rest,
body unfolded in tranquil stature
gazing into the summoning west.
I carried a box of silver sorrow,
the cremation of her time-worn days;
around his head an ashy halo
a symbol of my dismal haze.
The shock of loss was still my psalm,
as I had reached the end of tether;
an open window the evening’s balm
as I laid myself on a bed of weather.
So I said to myself if I should wake;
the saint’s day mass I would take.
Dawn’s soft dimness greeted my feet
in the narrow pink-stoned street.
Spidery movement on pavement cobble
bending me low to broken hobble.
Glancing upward I found its source:
a white shone feather’s downward course.
I raised and opened my left hand;
it landed like water on hard baked sand.
I felt like one who is singled out,
chosen as broken, a man of doubt.
I curled my hand around its grace;
it touched my soul like a mother’s face.
In the darkened crypt of the barefoot saint
I knelt as tears washed away constraint.
The trauma died as they broke the bread,
and wine woke a mother to stand in her stead.
You can listen to the poem here along with a brief introduction.