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Poem: "A Stranger and You Welcomed Me" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "A Stranger and You Welcomed Me"

This poem came out of the November 5, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from technoshaman and Dreamwidth user Fyreharper.  It has been sponsored by technoshaman.  It also fills the "service" square on my 10-6-13 card for the Origfic Bingo fest.  This poem belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman.

A Stranger and You Welcomed Me

The whole of Nocciolaia came together
every year on the fourth of November
to celebrate the feast day of St. Charles Borromeo,
the patron saint of the village.

In this they were all one big extended family --
Fiorenza with her aunts and uncles and cousins,
Don Candido with the people who helped at the parish,
the butcher and the baker and the brewer
and all the rest besides.

Fiorenza turned out the savory herbs from her garden
to flavor the foods for the feast to come.
The butcher came with a big package of oxtails.
The other villagers brought potatoes and carrots,
onions and parsnips and tender fennel bulbs.

Don Candido set up the huge cauldron from the church
and into it he dropped the lucky stone
that was said to be blessed by St. Charles Borromeo
so that the pot would never go empty.
They didn't know if that was really so,
but it was true that the cauldron
had never run out of stew during a feast.

Into the cauldron went the herbs and vegetables and meat
and all the good things the village had to offer.
The stone clicked against the sides of the cauldron
as Fiorenza stirred with the long wooden paddle,
blistered her thumb and swore over it.
Don Candido said blessings over the soup,
admonishing Fiorenza to mind her language.

The brewer had set up his barrels of beer and wine,
and Aunt Zola tapped another of apple cider.
Today they charged nothing for it,
and anyone thirsty might come and drink.

The old women of the village were folding clothes
to stack on long wooden tables.
At the ends of the tables were big baskets of rags
that might be made into rugs or quilts.
Whoever had things that nobody in the house could wear
brought them here to offer up to anyone who could use them.

Fiorenza had also set out several boxes
with simple remedies bound up in muslin bags --
tea for headaches or stomachaches
or the monthly complaints of women.
Anyone who couldn't grow their own herbs
or afford to buy them in the market
was welcome to take some in case of need.

The food too was free for all to eat
when it came out of the ovens and off the hearth
to weigh down the groaning tables.
There was more than enough to go around.

Everyone came up with bowls and plates
while Fiorenza ladled up the soup
and Don Candido handed out loaves of bread
from heaped baskets brought by the baker.
Today they stood side by side,
joined in service to their village.

Teenagers took turns standing watch at the road
and waved in every traveler who approached,
directing them up the lane to the feast.
There was a rich merchant on a trip
who happened to know Otoniel,
a troupe of entertainers, several beggars,
and one frail man of middling age
who declined to give either name or profession.

Everyone was invited to avail themselves of the bounty
and to stay the night in the village if they wished --
no one would be turned away or asked for payment.
It was the Savior's wish to look after the poor,
and the patron saint's choice of service,
and even the shepherds who still followed the old ways
said that such traditions went back beyond memory.
Those who took up the offerings paid with their gratitude
and so the holiday fulfilled itself.

The middle-aged man went about
mumbling to himself in Latin.
Fiorenza thought nothing of it
until she saw him set his hand on the cauldron --
which was really quite hot  as her burnt thumb could attest --
without taking any harm from it whatsoever.

When she looked at him
out of the corner of her eye,
it seemed that a sunbeam had snagged
on the silver-gilt curls of his hair.

Fiorenza's mouth fell open in surprise,
and she was about to remark on the matter
when Don Candido said quietly but firmly,
"Hush.  He does not always come,
but when he does, he prefers to be discreet.
Few there are who can see him for what he is,
and they know to hold their silence."

Wide-eyed, the wisewoman nodded,
and both men smiled at her.

The stranger had brought no bowl,
so Don Candido hollowed out a round of bread
into which Fiorenza ladled a portion of soup.
"Be welcome in Nocciolaia," she said.
"If you have need of a place for the night,
speak with my Aunt Zola over there,
who is offering space in her apple barn."

The man hobbled away with his supper in hand,
exchanged a few words with Aunt Zola,
and then firmly stationed himself beside her
where he handed out apples with one hand
while sipping soup with the other.

"I must say I'm surprised to see him here,
so far from ... his usual home,"
Fiorenza said.

Don Candido just chuckled.
"If a man gives his life to service,
can you really imagine him changing that
just because he has passed on?"

Fiorenza looked at the wandering saint
who had come to enjoy the generosity of his village
and stayed to help serve the feast himself.
"Now that you mention it, I suppose not,"
she said to Don Candido.

* * *


A patron saint usually has a sphere of influence, and individuals or villages may choose a patron based on that or some other association.  The patron saint's feast day or other holy day is typically set aside as a holiday within a given village.  St. Charles Borromeo is the patron saint of Nocciolaia.

The title of this poem comes from a Bible quote that I found on the saint's page:
St. Charles made his own the words of Christ: "...I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me" (Matthew 25:35-36). Charles saw Christ in his neighbor and knew that charity done for the least of his flock was charity done for Christ.

Oxtail soup is a traditional dish made with Italian vegetables and beef.

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6 comments or Leave a comment
siege From: siege Date: November 8th, 2013 05:29 am (UTC) (Link)
It is always nice to see someone special at a public feast.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 8th, 2013 05:33 am (UTC) (Link)


I have a soft spot for spiritual figures who appear unannounced in humble guise.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 8th, 2013 03:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Lovely, lovely poem, Elizabeth. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 8th, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you liked this so much.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: November 9th, 2013 03:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Lovely - "Stone Soup" is one of my favorite stories, in any form, and this is a really good take on it.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 9th, 2013 03:43 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

It's one of my favorite stories too. I'm glad you enjoyed this version.
6 comments or Leave a comment