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Poem: "A Knot of Thyme" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "A Knot of Thyme"

Here is the perk for reaching the $150 goal in the May 3, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  You voted for a Fiorenza poem this time.  marina_bonomi and eseme both wondered about various aspects of Fiorenza's past and how she came to her position.  I myself had been wondering why she started out so young.  Then all the questions and answers came together...

You can read the other poems about Fiorenza on the "Serial Poetry" page of my website. Among other things, I researched historic herb gardens and greenhouses for this poem.

A Knot of Thyme


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.

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16 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
tuftears From: tuftears Date: May 13th, 2011 10:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm, Fiorenza's father is only missing, not dead - he could show up someday! };)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 13th, 2011 10:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well...

They have no idea what happened to him: living, dead, cast adrift in a far land, run off with another woman, gone on a plague ship or a ghost ship, stuck on Circe's island as a pig ...
tuftears From: tuftears Date: May 13th, 2011 10:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

Tried to sell the wrong Jack a magic bean and was arrested for fraudulent advertising?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 13th, 2011 11:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

*laugh* Good one!
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: May 14th, 2011 03:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Very intriguing! So what's going to happen when she finds someone she actually finds a romantic interest in?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 14th, 2011 05:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Well...

Considering her personality, I expect that Fiorenza will just go after the object of her desire. I hope whoever it is likes assertive women.
eseme From: eseme Date: May 14th, 2011 01:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Excellent! Thanks for writing this one.

I am happy that Don Candido made an appearance, though he doesn't know Florenza very well.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 14th, 2011 09:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

I figured that he is some years older than her, but not a lot. Enough to have a certain amount of social seniority, but at this stage still settling into his own position too, so sometimes kind of heavy-handed and by-the-book. He would be doing all the priest things and be involved in pretty much everyone's life, so I expect he'll show up periodically. I like him, even though he can be a pain at times.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: May 16th, 2011 03:24 am (UTC) (Link)
I am amused by the chickens. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 16th, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

Livestock used to be an integral part of most people's lives. So if you look at my historic writing, you'll see some of that. In this case, the chickens made a nice example of Fiorenza's early learning experiences as well as her personality (which is feisty but not utterly devoid of compassion).
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: May 16th, 2011 09:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Indeed, and sometimes even now. My sister has a pair of much-fussed-over chickens in her backyard.

I was more thinking of the image of chasing birds that didn't really want to go to the trouble of flying away and would just scatter -- I spent my share of time chasing pidgeons as a kid -- and liked the repeat of the image when older and calmer and capable of seeing metaphors.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 17th, 2011 06:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>I was more thinking of the image of chasing birds that didn't really want to go to the trouble of flying away and would just scatter -- I spent my share of time chasing pidgeons as a kid -- and liked the repeat of the image when older and calmer and capable of seeing metaphors.<<

That too. I have a strong urge to chase things. I think Fiorenza was more playful than predatory, though. It was easier for her to discover a different way to interact with chickens.

When I was two and three, we had chickens. I fed them. I don't think I chased them much. But we had this demonic rooster in there too, who was nearly my size, and kept trying to kill me. I had to carry a broom or a stick to beat him back so I could dump the feed and grab the eggs. And come autumn, when it was his turn on the chopping block, I switched from holding the feet to swinging the axe (which I could just barely manage). Trouble is, that put Grandma on the feet, and she let go a bit too soon. Mom wound up chasing the headless rooster back and forth across the field.

He sure was flavorful, though.
laffingkat From: laffingkat Date: May 20th, 2011 01:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, I really like seeing Fiorenza's early development.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 20th, 2011 03:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

That's good to hear.

I enjoyed writing this poem, despite the tragic background. I think it adds to the depth of the character.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 27th, 2017 03:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
The premise reminds me, a bit, of Terry Pratchett's witches. Its a similar concept of self reliant women who hold more power than people might be comfortable with but at the same time are to vital to do without

Long time reader, though mostly on Ao3 where I'm Anna Libertas :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 27th, 2017 09:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

Welcome!

>>The premise reminds me, a bit, of Terry Pratchett's witches. Its a similar concept of self reliant women who hold more power than people might be comfortable with but at the same time are to vital to do without <<

Yes, that is an excellent description of the village wisewoman. :D

>> Long time reader, though mostly on Ao3 where I'm Anna Libertas :) <<

Yay! I'm happy to see you here. You can find most of my original series (plus the Frankenstein's Family fanfic) organized via the Serial Poetry page. A few are under Shared Worlds instead.
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