Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) by Day Williams

CATHERINE OF SIENA

(1347-1380)

 

A person who believes that Jesus Christ

Is Lord and Savior of the World is called

A saint through faith, the substance of the things

 

Hoped for, the evidence of things not seen;

And in the Catholic Church some souls are known

As saints and doctors by the grace of God.

 

The blessed Catherine of Siena, born

A twin upon Annunciation Day,

The last of thirteen children who survived,

 

Professed her love for God through holiness

When wars and plagues had shaken faith and hope

In city-states of Tuscany where walls

 

Protected citizens from outside harm.

Her father’s trade was dyeing wool; his wife,

Madonna Lapa, ruled the family.

 

This daughter destined to direct the Popes,

Young Caterina Benincasa, taught

Herself to say the Angelus at five,

 

And knelt upon the steps of stairs at home

To say an Ave Maria, step by step.

When she was six years old, she looked across

 

Valle Piatta to the abbey church

Of San Domenico; above its roof

She saw the Savior of the World, who sat

 

In bishop’s robes upon a royal throne,

The treble Papal crown upon His head.

Beside the Lord were Peter, Paul and John,

 

And Jesus raised His hand and blessed the girl,

Who stood enraptured while the love of God

Abounded in her soul, a cup that gushed.

 

Her brother called to her; she did not move.

He had to take her arm to make her wake

As though from sleep, transformed forevermore.

 

She swam beneath the water in the sea

Of love, and vowed when seven she would be

The bride of Christ, and of no other man,

 

A virgin pure in body and in soul.

In times alone with God she learned to build

An inner cell within her soul which she

 

Would never leave, despite temptation’s pull

And the entreaties from her family,

Who wanted to arrange a groom for her.

 

Forced to divulge her vow of chastity,

She told her parents that her will was fixed:

“It would be easier to melt a stone

 

Than tear this resolution from my heart.

I must obey the Lord before all men;

My Bridegroom is so rich that He will give

 

Me all I need, if you should throw me out.”

The twelve-year-old prevailed; no more would they

Attempt to wed her to a mortal man,

 

Although she lived beneath her parents’ roof

Another seven years, her room a cell

Beside the landing, ten by sixteen feet.

 

O Catherine, if I had one-tenth your zeal,

What miracles could God perform through me,

What battles could He win for souls of men!

 

The revelation of the Trinity

Was hers through meditation, solitude,

And the denial of her self:  three times

 

A day she scourged her body with a chain

Of iron: once for her own sins, once more

For sins of every living soul, and once

 

For souls in purgatory, giving Christ,

Her Lord and Savior, blood for blood, ‘til blood

Ran down her shoulders in her sacred cell.

 

Within her parents’ house where she would sleep

For half an hour on every other day

On planks of wood when she was not in prayer.

 

The holy teen’s devout desire to join

An order of St. Dominic was quenched

At last when she received the robe and veil,

 

In white to symbolize her purity,

And the black cape, in black as sign of death

Unto this world and of humility.

 

Eternal blessedness is knowing God,

God as He is; thus she renounced the world,

That which is vanishing, for unity

 

With Him who suffered on the cross of love.

She gave belongings to the poor, and cared

For sickest of the sick in darkest hours,

 

Even when stinking wounds made others leave,

And patients shouted blasphemies at her.

Companions said that when she prayed, she rose

 

Above the floor so high that one could place

A hand between the woman and the floor;

When she received the Body of the Lord,

 

She would withdraw in ecstasy, as stiff

And as insensible as Lazarus

Four days inside the cave before the Lord

 

Commanded him to rise and leave the tomb.

When Catherine’s soul was lifted to commune

With Love Incarnate, she could not perceive

 

A needle in her foot, and passersby

Who doubted her sincerity would kick

The girl who lay insensate in the street.

 

At twenty-two she ate no solid food,

And for long times the Eucharist alone

Provided nourishment for her who drank,

 

In mystic flights, from Jesus’ wounded side.

Christ let her see His secrets, and equipped

Her with the gifts of grace to call her forth,

 

His weapon in the battle for men’s souls.

One story of a multitude is all

I have the space to tell of how she saved

 

The souls of men through visions and her prayers.

One winter day two wagons took two men,

Condemned to suffer torture and then death,

 

Around the town as executioners

Used red-hot tongs to tear and burn their flesh.

The robbers, chained to stakes, reviled the Lord

 

As townsmen shook and shuddered in alarm;

But Catherine of Siena, who had seen

The wagons pass, retired to beg in prayer

 

For Christ to save the wretches’ souls, as He

Had saved the robber crucified by Him.

The wagons drove up to a city gate,

 

The Porta della Giustitia,

And there beneath the arch stood Christ, who wore

A crown of thorns and bled from head to toe.

 

Caught up in Spirit, Catherine saw the Lord;

The robbers saw Him too, and when He saw

Their eyes and hearts, defiance broke in them.

 

These highwaymen called for a priest, confessed

Their sins, sang hymns, and met their deaths content.

The very moment that they died redeemed,

 

The praying virgin woke from ecstasy,

For love of God and mankind for His sake

Was all the mystic knew worth living for.

 

The exile of the Popes to Avignon

(Franciscans called it Babylonia,

And hung their harps on poplars as they wept)

Disrupted Rome, corrupted faith, and left

Believers rudderless and insecure.

The Roman churches lay in ruins, priests

 

Had morals of degenerates, and law

Was lost as factions fought and clutched for power.

God sent as punishment the plague, Black Death,

 

Which killed one-half of Europe’s populace.

In thirteen-fifty St. Birgitta, a seer

From Sweden, heard the call to cleanse the Church.

 

She went to Rome and urged the Pope to leave

His capital in Avignon, lest he

Should suffer wrath from God–but he refused.

 

As John the Baptist heralded the work

And ministry of Christ, Birgitta ran

Before the mystic saint who wrought success,

 

The Pope’s return to Rome from Avignon,

For Catherine told Pope Gregory that he

Had made a vow when Cardinal to move

 

To Rome if ever he became the Pope,

A vow which he had never told a soul.

At thirty-three, the age her Bridegroom died,

 

Suffering, paralyzed below the waist,

As she lay on her bed of wooden boards,

The purest dove accused herself of sins,

 

And cried aloud, “My honor! Never! Praise

And honor to Christ crucified alone!”

In April thirteen-eighty Catherine gave

 

Her spirit to the Father’s hands.

In spring a million buds appear on trees;

In winter snowflakes fall from clouds, each one

 

Unique in pattern, each a gift to earth,

And as each bud and snowflake offers gifts

That come from it alone, so every child

 

Who’s born again of God, among the millions, bears

And offers special gifts, the gifts of grace

And mercy to the Lord and humankind.

 

This daughter of a wealthy family

Used special gifts to lead and move the Popes

And men of lower rank to follow God.

 

Greater than special gifts that Catherine had

Through her ascetic life and ministry

Was intimacy she possessed with Christ;

 

She loved the Lord with heart and soul and strength,

And fixed her eyes on Jesus’ wounds; she knew

None are redeemed without the blood of Christ.

 

She served her Bridegroom, clove right by His side,

Surrendered self with zeal, and gave up pride

As she renounced the world to be His bride.

~Day Williams

From Virginia Street and Other Poems

and Three Saints, Two Villains

“Detective Sonnets” by Day Williams

Detective Sonnets

Sonnet 13

“The thirteenth floor? Most hotels don’t have one,”
Said Sargent Saturday. “The balcony–
What was she doing there at two a.m.?”

“The brand new husband says she couldn’t sleep.
Says he had no idea why she leaped.”

“She is–was–a Carducci? I know them.
Good folks. The old man won the lottery.
His wife died and he put a loaded gun–”

“I know the rest,” Detective Rogers said.
“They found his brains all over Noland’s farm.”

“That leaves one heir, with three Carduccis dead.”

“He can’t explain the scratches on his arm,
Torn shirt and pants, or why his head has bumps.”

“Honeymoon’s over. Go pick up the chump.”

Sonnet 14

“Fourteen stab wounds and he claimed self-defense?”
“A cornered man will make a wild excuse.”
“Does he think cops are ignorant and dense?”
“That I won’t answer. He has been abused.”
“A deadbeat. He was behind ten months’ rents.”
“But how much must a two-bit loser lose?
He said that he was thrown against a fence.”
“You won’t know left from right, drink that much booze.”
“Detective says he has another lead.”
“I can’t believe they haven’t closed the case.”
“The obvious can cover something new.”
“The wounds don’t match his knife. Who did the deed?”
“They caught a kid downtown, the Bloody Ace.
His knife matched.”
“Things people say and do.”

Sonnet 22 (1 of 2)

The Palace’s detective followed me
Into the bathroom. The corpse was sprawled,
Elbows akimbo. Now my wife was free
To strum a harp in clouds, for God had called

Her home, but the detective could not see
His way to let me go. He stammered, stalked
And stood above my wife, her dignity
In death of no concern to him. He balked

When I suggested that the coroner
Could check for anything on her amiss.
“You can’t explain the bruise upon her skull,”

He said. “Your alibi is like a burr
That scratches. It don’t check out. I insist
You come with me.” I swung, my anger full.

Sonnet 23 (2 of 2)

Blood sprayed the mirror like Pollock’s paint.
I kneed his crotch, he went down, I took
His gun and pointed it. The man looked faint.
“She’s happy now, in heaven like a saint.
I wouldn’t go to church with her. Her Book,
The only book she read, told her to look
To Jesus for deliverance. No taint
On her. She’ll find a smarmy cozy nook
And she’ll be happy evermore.” “What for?
He asked me, as his pistol grazed his chin.
“You’ll never get away–” I slammed his head
Against a pipe, and he was out. I’ll soar
On wings for my good deed. I made her win
Escape from sin. She can’t sin, for she’s dead.

Sonnet 87

I’m in the kitchen with Detective Joe
Who wants a statement from my brother’s mate,
But she won’t talk to him or me no more.
“Why?” Joe asks me. “Because she tempted Fate.

He slit her throat, that’s why.” The apple core
He held, he turned and threw beside the gate.
“Can’t no one tell me nothin’? I am sore!”
“How do you think she felt? It’s gettin’ late.

Why don’t you take your copmobile and slide
On out of here?” “I’ll have to take him in.”
“I am my brother’s keeper,” I remarked.

Rain falls for forty days. The flood is wide.
Water rising–I’m drowning in my sin.
My brother smiles and steps inside his ark.

~Day Williams

December 7: Dominion

Dominion

God said to fill the earth and take dominion
Over it, so men harnessed nature’s laws
With floating farms and coffee-powered cars,
The hoverboards and mines on asteroids,

Easy tattoo removal from the skin,
Transhuman tech, space kites, robots that draw,
Weather control and terraforming Mars,
Dyson spheres, penicillin, cyborgs, androids:

Man takes dominion over every breath,
Advances medicine to fight death’s grin,
Strengthens the people, healthier each day;
But no device can soften man’s hard heart.

Man can extend a life but can’t crush death
To bits, because no tool can wipe out sin,
As only Jesus’ blood takes sin away:
Man’s saved when he submits to God’s great art.
~Day Williams

Sonnet 98 (Barabbas)

Sonnet 98 (Barabbas)

I can’t believe they set me free. That man,
So peaceful, self-assured, prepared to die –
Even Pontius Pilate, who’s no fan
Of Jews, said he had done no wrong. I’ll fly
Down this road fast as this gray donkey can
Trot, far from crosses silhouetted high
On Calvary, the symbols of the plans
By Rome to rule by fear. I want to cry
When my own countrymen, my fellow Jews,
Meekly obey the goons and clowns from Rome
Who wield the swords and shields. I have a chance
Again to stir rebellion, as I choose.
How foolish was that Jesus to come home,
Claiming he was a prophet. Such romance!

–From Virginia Street and Other Poems by Day Williams

 

SECOND KINGS CHAPTER EIGHT

SECOND KINGS CHAPTER EIGHT

1 Elisha had informed the woman whose

Son he’d restored to life, “Go off with your

Own family and stay a while wherever

You can, for God’s decreed a famine in

The land that will endure for seven years.”

2 The woman did just as the man of God

Had said, for she and her whole family

Went off and stayed for seven years within

The land of Philistines, 3 and at the end

Of seven years she came back from the land

Of Philistines and went up to the king

To beg for her own house and land. 4 The king

Was talking to Gehazi, servant of

The man of God, and said, “Tell me about

The great things that Elisha’s done.” 5 Just as

Gehazi was relating to the king

The way Elisha had restored the dead

To life, the woman whose son Elisha 

Brought back to life came up to beg the king

For her own house and land. Gehazi said,

“My lord the king, this is the woman, and

This is her son Elisha brought to life.”

6 The king asked her about it, she told him,

And he assigned a minister to take

Her case and said to him, “Give back all that

Belonged to her, including all the income

Out of her land from when she left the country

Until now,” 7 then Elisha traveled to

Damascus, and Ben‑Hadad, Aram’s king,

Was ailing. When the king was told, “The man

Of God has come all the way up here,” 8 he

Said to Hazael, “Take a gift with you

And go to meet the man of God. Consult

The LORD through him; ask him, ‘Will I recover

From this complaint?’” 9 Hazael went to meet

Elisha, taking with him as a gift

Forty camel‑loads of Damascus’s

Best wares. He went and stood before him, and

He said, “Your son Ben‑Hadad, Aram’s king,

Sent me to ask, ‘Will I recover from

 This malady?’” 10 Elisha answered, “Go

And say to him, ‘You’ll certainly recover’;

But God has told me he will in fact die.”

11 He stared at him with a fixed gaze until

Hazael felt ashamed. The man of God

Began to weep. 12 Hazael asked, “Why, my

Lord, do you cry?” “I cry because I know

The hurt and harm you’ll do the Israelites,”

He answered. “You will set their forts on fire,         

You’ll kill their young men with the sword,

                    you’ll dash

Their little children to the ground, and you

Will rip their pregnant women open,” 13 and

Hazael said, “How could your servant, who

Is but a dog, accomplish such a feat?”    

“The LORD has shown me that you will become the king

Of Aram,” said Elisha, 14 then Hazael

Departed from Elisha and went back

To his own master. When Ben‑Hadad asked,

“What did Elisha say to you?” Hazael

Replied, “He told me that you surely would

Recover,” 15 but the following day he

Took a thick cloth, soaked it in water and

He spread it over the king’s face, so that

He died. Hazael then succeeded him

As king; 16 in the fifth year of Joram son

Of Ahab king of Israel, and when

Jehoshaphat was Judah’s king, Jehoram

Son of Jehoshaphat began his reign

As king of Judah: 17 He was thirty‑two

Years old when he became the king, and he

Reigned in Jerusalem eight years, 18 and walked

In ways of kings of Israel, just as

The house of Ahab had done, for he married

An Ahab daughter. He did evil in

The eyes of God, 19 but just the same,

For the sake of his servant David, God

Was loath to wipe out Judah. He had promised

To keep a lamp for David and all his

Descendants evermore. 20 Now in Jehoram’s

Time, Edom did rebel against the land

Of Judah and set up its own king, 21 so

Jehoram went to Zair with all of

His chariots. The Edomites surrounded

Him and his chariot commanders, but

He rose up and broke through by night; but his

Army fled back home, 22 and to this day Edom

Has been defying Judah. Libnah did

Revolt at the same time; 23 as for the other

Incidents in  Jehoram’s reign, and all

He did, are they not written in the book

Of annals of the kings of Judah? 24 Then

Jehoram rested with his fathers and

Was buried with them inside David’s City.

And Ahaziah his own son succeeded

Him as the king. 25 In the twelfth year of Joram

The son of Ahab king of Israel,

Ahaziah son of Jehoram king

Of Judah started reigning. 26 Ahaziah           

Was twenty‑two years old when he became

King, and he reigned within Jerusalem

One year. His mother’s name was Athaliah,

A granddaughter of Israel’s King Omri.

27 He walked in ways of Ahab’s house and he

Did evil in the eyes of God, just as

The house of Ahab had done, for he was

Related to the family of Ahab

By marriage; 28 Ahaziah went with Joram,

Ahab’s son, to a war against Hazael,

Aram=s king, there at Ramoth Gilead.

The Arameans wounded Joram; 29 so

King Joram traveled to Jezreel for his

Recovery from the wounds the Arameans

Gave him at Ramoth in his battle with

Hazael king of Aram, then Ahaziah

Son of Jehoram king of Judah went

To Jezreel to see Joram, Abah’s son,

Because he had been wounded, hurt and stunned.