Descent into Orta San Giulio from the Sacro Monte di Orta

by Alan Bern

Winter trees bide
they gate

Orta’s Sacro Monte pathway,

branches, bared to pale bark,

lift death’s face.

Lean Francesco, in stone, overlooks.

His stick-crucifix
held in cold air.

A first step it takes many
to sound out Francesco’s words
chiseled at Chapel VI,

“go dear ones… announce peace and penance…
be patient… bless and thank everyone,”

just up Viale Frate Vento,
the Avenue of Brother Wind.

Though I falter in penance,
peace mumbled beyond me,

I walk back down a stony path
with loosened heart humming


            let us learn from the stones

                                 San Francesco

speak speak  
a cheek a face
down on 



huddled with face
smooth on stone
the other foot
cold stone 

flies move
in the wounds of the dead
and the living 

the dead can read
even if they may not hear 
open eyes and look out

speaking into the ear
of the corpse

Retired children’s librarian, Alan Bern, is the author of three poetry books and is an exhibited/published photographer. Recent awards include: honorable mention for Littoral Press Poetry Prize (2021); first runner-up for Raw Art Review’s Mirabai Prize for Poetry (2020); medal from SouthWest Writers for a WWII story set in Assisi (2019). Recent/upcoming writing and photo work in Raw Art Review, HAUNTED WATERS PRESSAletheia Literary QuarterlyCERASUS, Feral,Please See MeArtemis Journal, and Mercurius. Alan performs with dancer/composer Lucinda Weaver as PACES: dance & poetry fit to the space and with musicians from Composing TogetherLines & Faces, his illustrated broadside press with artist/printer Robert Woods:

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