St. Florian with Burning Church

by Mary Jo Salter

Funny how you can pass time and again
the same things in the same room and not see them.
Somehow, pacing for years through this museum,
I’ve slighted three-foot-high St. Florian
and now I stop. Why now? Saint who? Consult
smartphone: apparently, he was a cult

figure, often featured with a pail
of water like this, ever tipped to douse
the flames engulfing, at his feet, a house—
no, it’s a church, but to a dollhouse-scale.
Medieval artists played with small and large:
the point here is that Florian took charge.

His pose is wooden; then again, he’s made
(as is the water and the fire) of wood
and everything about them is a falsehood.
“Light a fire,” the legend says he said,
“and I will climb to Heaven on it.” One
comment like that, your bio is all done—

a millennium passes and the fire motif
has gotten out of hand; a Roman soldier
martyred in 304 CE, now you’re
a fetish throughout Europe, and (good grief)
credited with extinguishing whole towns.
In real life, though, it’s Florian who drowns

and sinks to the bottom, poor unread footnote.
They club him, scourge and flay him; for good measure,
they throw him in the Enns, the local river,
a millstone dangling from his soft young throat.
Later, a woman named Valeria takes
his body from the deep: and thus his relics

travel through Noricum (in present-day
Austria), to Linz, then Cracow, where
the church named after him commands the square.
Today in Poland, all you have to say
is “Florian!” on the phone: it’s understood
as code, even now, to call the fire brigade.

Submission is the mark of all the saints,
too humble to protest how history paints
their acts in its canonical report.
As for the rest of us, who knows our sins?
Some vague, antique offense occurred near Linz,
famous for Hitler and the Linzer torte.