Fra

by Imogen Cassels

after Robert Browning’s Fra Lippo Lippi

See! There, by the grey beginning
of the morning, there he comes, over
the horizon of the road. Like a god
to us, he is, with his beautiful old,
old clothes, and his sayings, Zooks!
he says these things about art and
shakes his head. Lived a lot of life,
I know. He gets a free pint at the pub,
we watch the gold and the sea-foam
catch in his beard and bring out
the yellow in his eyes. Taught me more
than school ever did, proper philosopher,
a gentleman, erudite, you could say,
very witty. Knows the village like
the back of his hand, though he avoids
the chapel. Tough, craggy, you can tell
from his boots he’s been walking a long time.
Call me “Brother” he says, “Fra” – he’s got
this sort of accent we can’t quite place.
People used to ask him where he’s going,
no one bothers now; he just talks about
a carnival then sings for hours on end,
a sort of love song. He’s wonderful,
a treasure whenever he comes like the rising
sun over the worn-out hill. Later, when
the street’s hushed, we raise another
glass to him and sing his lovely, sad old song.