I write a lot of serial poetry these days, as my audience enjoys revisiting favorite characters and settings. One of the more popular series is Fiorenza the Wisewoman; you can find links to all of its published poems on my Serial Poetry page. If you look there, you can see the people in my audience who have given prompts and donations to make this series happen.
This series, set in a small village in
To see what Fiorenza looks like, check out the sketch that meeks drew for a much later poem, "Husband by Hand." Fiorenza is in the back with the baking sheet. The icon on this post is by Tod Wills, from his Icon Day project, showing Fiorenza with a tomato.
Fiorenza was born
on the day of spring's first flower,
laid in her mother's arms
for the space of one hour, and then
laid in a cradle
while her mother was buried
in a grave marked with a single blossom.
Carmela the wisewoman
wept bitterly for her daughter Marietta.
Then she rebraided her greying hair
and planted a new twist of thyme
in the knotwork garden that marked their lineage.
Carmela watched and watched the road
for her daughter's husband,
but Giordano never returned from his sea voyage.
Fiorenza grew up in her grandmother's cottage
with its tidy orchard and rambling herb garden
leading down to the little house of leaded glass
that protected the most delicate plants during winter,
precious gift of a long-ago lord for saving his son's life.
Fiorenza chased the chickens down the gravel paths
and braided calendula blossoms into her wild black hair.
Carmela noted her granddaughter's quick wits
and deft hands and sharp tongue.
Fiorenza was not and never would be a mild maiden,
sought after as wife and mother.
So Carmela taught the girl how to garden,
how to harvest the herbs for medicines,
how to bake them into breads and pastries.
Carmela hoped that Fiorenza would show
some talent for one of these things --
but Fiorenza excelled at all of them.
Fiorenza walked through the village
with a basket of eggs on one hip
and a basket of herbs on the other.
She ran through the village
at her grandmother's heels,
carrying the wisewoman's supplies
wherever they were needed.
Heads turned and people whispered,
but Fiorenza didn't mind.
Carmela passed away
when Fiorenza was three years a woman.
Don Candido the priest said the service for her,
while high overhead the white doves
murmured in the eaves of the church.
Afterward he advised Fiorenza to marry.
Fiorenza looked at the young men of her village,
whose bloody noses she stanched after fights
and whom she had treated for hangovers all too often
and who asked impertinent, urgent questions about
how not to get a baby on a girl they wouldn't marry.
She sighed and shook her head,
then went home to her grandmother's garden
and tended the long twists of thyme.
The villagers came to her --
slowly, sometimes blushingly,
but they came.
There were bakers and gardeners aplenty,
but if they wanted an herbalist,
there was only Fiorenza,
who though young had learned her grandmother's craft
well enough to keep breath attached to body.
Fiorenza didn't mind.
There was time.
The people would learn to trust her,
just as the red hens had learned
as soon as she stopped chasing them.