The Wolf of Gubbio


Not the walls of the furled city,
through which he drifted like malign sleet,
nor every vigilance, could stop him.
He came and rent some poor soul
to morsels and ate him. There was no help
nearby, so St. Francis slogged
from Assisi to tame the wolf.
Sassetta painted this meeting.
The wolf, pert and teachable as Lassie,
has laid his licentious, vow-making right paw
in the saint's hand and meets with his
ochre eye the saint's chastening gaze.
The townspeople stand like a grove
and watch. Probably one of their faces
belonged to a patron who commissioned
Sassetta, but which face? Art remembers
a few things by forgetting many.
The wolf lived on in the nearby hills
but never ate, the story goes, another
citizen. Was Sassetta the last one,
then, to see on the piazza, like dropped
firewood, most of a leg and what may be
a forearm gnawed from both ends, lurid
with scarlet blood? None in the painting
looks at this carnage and bright waste,
nor thinks of the gnarled woods
in which the pewter-colored wolf
makes his huge home, nor measures with what work
each stone was prized from the furious ground
to build each house in Gubbio
and to lay a piazza atop the town
and to raise above it a tower.


William Matthews, Search Party: Collected Poems, Mariner Books, 2005.