Father Damien

I once rode a mule
down a path carved into steep cliffs
sliding through mud soaked ruts
thick with slime and loose stones
on top of an ornery mule,
named Hoku.
Hugging sharp ledges using my
leg as his ruler, parallel to
the treacherous ledge and rocks below.
Stopping at the beginning of every switchback
to snatch a mouthful of
grass, constantly chewing, his head
steadily pulling at the reins.
Early morning the air was heavy with mist, sheltered
by the dense foliage, not a drop of wind to cool and
fend off the stench of droppings stepped through by this caravan.
Below lay Kalaupapa, the leper colony
where endangered monk seals give birth
on the isolated northern peninsula
of Molokai. A place where the diseased
cast off’s were thrown off passing ships,
left to swim to shore or die
in the crushing surf.
A place of pristine beauty, where nature fiercely reigned.
On a pilgrimage of sorts,
I ventured into a place that only some decades
ago had been a death sentence, a prison without the possibility of parole.
Contagious and deadly
this biblical disease, would’ve meant a one way ticket
for those who dared to venture beyond its borders.
Father Damien knew this.
Committed to his
faith, risking this contagion that would eventually
eat at his flesh;
in a time of
ignorance and shame.
Now a U.S. National Historical Park
feeding the
faithful and curious onlookers
crumbs of forgotten
history in this breathtaking remote
settlement. Where a stubborn, hard working,
devoted man of the cloth
took on the armor of sainthood.

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