In 1217, Pope Innocent III, who thought man was spit, piss, and dung,
who coined the phrase persona ficta for Christendom,
sanctioned another pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The crusaders reached Egypt and the Fertile Crescent in late May, 1218.
Saint Francis preached to them of peace in August. They took
Damietta in November. They were in no hurry.
Three years passed. They kept expecting Frederick II, King of the Romans,
to come to their aid. He had said he would; he’d promised Innocent;
but he was busy with his astrologer.
By the time the Sultan ordered the sluice gates of the Nile to be opened
on the pilgrims, they were nostalgic. They were trying to go home.
They’d had enough crusade.
When the Muslims let loose the flood and joined it themselves at Cairo,
the Christians were confused and divided and drunk.
They staggered off into the bulrushes.
In the dark, they coughed and gagged on the burning tents and flesh and loot.
They stumbled like pelicans into remnants of their ships and sank;
or they snored, dreaming, as the infidels cut their throats.
Some say they were trapped by the river and the devil; some, by their own emperor.
Others say they died for the plunder. But we know what it’s like not to want to
leave the wine in the land of those who don’t drink it.