For A Hermit
by Naomi Shihab Nye
from Honeybee, ©2008
The hermit Justiniani walked across Europe
after refusing to take his final vows.
He walked across the colonial United States,
coming to live in a cave in southern New Mexico.
Once he walked from Las Cruces
to San Antonio
for a little visit.
Justiniani led mystical prayer gatherings,
conducted healings in living rooms,
then walked 20 miles home
to his dwelling in the cave.
People worried he might not be safe,
living alone in those wild times,
as opposed to these,
sleeping without a lock,
or even a door.
He promised to light a fire every Friday night.
They could see it from town.
When the fire didn’t appear,
he was found with a knife through his back,
wearing a thorny girdle of the penitentes,
“another unsolved murder” of those days.
Justiniani, pray for us,
our secret sorrows,
our inability to walk so far.
Pray for the signal fires we fail to light,
that we will have the power to light them.
Pray for the battered, unchosen people.
We have not come far at all
from your time.
Your diary sleeps in untranslated Italian
in a locked glass case.
When I found out about it
I went a little crazy.
I need to know
what you knew.
The ceiling of your cave is charred.
Along the path, clumps of cactus, desert flowers,
chips of flint.
I stood inside, trying to imagine which way
you slept in there,
pointed out or in, listening to the echo of the birds
over Dripping Springs Road.
Please grant us the depth of your silence.
We are lost inside our world.
Don Juan Maria de Justiniani was a real person who lived from 1800 to 1869. There isn’t much known about him, and the things we do know are all laid out in the poem above.
He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. The only online resource I found was Find-A-Grave, HERE.
I kind of like that.