"He used to call his body Brother Ass. . . ." —Saint Bonaventure, Life of Saint Francis
Audio: Hear Richard Wilbur, former poet laureate of the United States, read "Bone Key" (1:53)
You would think that here, at least,
In dens by night, on tawny sands by day,
Poor Brother Ass would be a kingly beast.
So does the casuarina seem to say,
Whose kindred haziness
Of head is flattering to a bloodshot eye;
So too the palm's blown shadows, which caress
Anointed brows and bodies where they lie,
And Angel's Trumpets, which
Proclaim a musky scent in fleshly tones.
Yet in this island soil that's only rich
In rock and coral and Calusa bones,
It's hardihood that thrives,
As when a screw pine that the gale has downed,
Shooting new prop-roots from its trunk, survives
In bristling disarray by change of ground,
Or the white mangrove, nursed
In sea-soaked earth and air, contrives to expel
From leafstalk glands the salt with which it's cursed,
Or crotons, scorched as by the flames of Hell,
Their leaves in leather, and so move to and fro
In the hot drafts that stir the sun's harsh fire,
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
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