To read other poems about Fiorenza, visit the "Serial Poetry" page on my website. (A sequel will become available after this poem is fully funded and posted, "From the Free City.") There is also a fan-written poem inspired by "Fiorenza and the Witch-Son," showing the perspective of another character; read "Don Candido muses..." by the_vulture.
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Fiorenza has always known
that she is a little different,
but not a lot.
Sometimes, in the garden,
she wears breeches instead of skirts.
She doesn't hesitate to order people around
when necessary, not even the men,
and the villagers are beginning to obey
without arguing so much.
She holds a woman's role,
and her eyes admire the young men's bodies
though she knows far too much of the village lads
ever to desire any of them.
Someday, she thinks,
she'll meet someone else, somewhere else,
and hope he doesn't mind
that she's a little odd around the edges,
like the way wild campanulas bloom
in one corner of the herb garden
where there's a brick missing in the border.
Fiorenza knows her role in the village,
and she values it,
as the villagers are coming to value her.
She tries not to startle them too much
with her little strangenesses,
though sometimes she forgets.
"Ah, Fiorenza," says Don Candido the priest,
shaking his shaggy head,
"a good woman does not wear breeches
into the village!"
"I'm sorry, Don Candido," she says,
and she is, a bit. It's easy to forget
when she has a basket of fresh herbs for the villagers
and her mind is on who needs which,
not what she's wearing.
"You'll never catch yourself a husband
walking around like that," he says.
"I'm not hunting for a husband here,"
says Fiorenza, looking around at the louts
whose fistfights and drunken binges
have landed them on her doorstep time after time.
"Fiorenza, you need a husband,"
says Don Candido. "It's not so good
for women and men to be alone."
"Now that's a fine thing for a priest to say,
given the vow of chastity," Fiorenza replies.
She notices that Don Candido looks away
like a man with something to hide,
yet does not blush like the other priests
who sometimes visit loose women.
He steps out of her way, then,
so Fiorenza does not remark on it.
Someday, she thinks, she'll find a husband
and there will be one less thing
for people to grumble about,
and in the meantime there's no need to argue.
At the market in Fermo,
Fiorenza watches warily for the Spaniard
but he is not there, his space empty.
She settles herself nearby,
spreads her skirts on the dusty grass,
and lays packets of dried herbs on the blanket.
Soon someone new claims the empty space
left by the Spaniard, setting up
a stand of walking sticks,
a basket of neatly rolled bandages,
and a row of potted mallows just beginning to bloom.
At first Fiorenza thinks the newcomer a girl
for the long blue skirts and
the smooth black hair falling to the shoulders,
but no, the chest lies flat under the blouse
and that's a boy's vest instead of a girl's bodice.
Fiorenza can't help but wonder what it all means.
When Captain Marino leans over the blanket,
bartering peppercorns for rosemary,
Fiorenza murmurs, "Who is that over there,
where the Spaniard was before?"
"Oh, that's Giacinto the striòs,"
says Captain Marino.
"His mother is the herbalist for their village,
but she never bore any daughters, only him.
Now she is too old to travel,
so her son is taking her place."
Witches could be trouble, sometimes,
if you aren't careful,
and a witch-son could be twice as much;
but on the other hand it would be nice
to talk with a fellow herbalist.
At the very least, he is unlikely to try pinching her, since
men who wear women's clothes are rarely drawn to women.
Fiorenza watches Giacinto
as the customers come and go.
He never does anything amiss,
and when he scolds one toddler for running wild
his tone reminds Fiorenza so much of her grandmother
that her eyes water with the memory.
So she goes to him at the end of the day,
and she trades the last of her herbs
for the last of his bandages.
Giacinto grins at Fiorenza the way boys grin at girls they like,
and she thinks that perhaps clothes aren't everything.
She doesn't mean to keep standing there
but before she knows it they're laughing and talking
about the challenges of tending a village,
and Giacinto admits that he wears the skirts
because they remind people comfortably of his mother
and Fiorenza tells him the story about
wearing her breeches into the village.
"There is a werewolf up the mountain
from our village," Giacinto says suddenly.
"Vampires outside of ours," Fiorenza says
with a casual nod, "but I've found
that they dislike garlic and tomatoes."
They share a smile for the strange things
that people sometimes ask them to handle.
"I haven't any garlic or tomatoes,"
"Well," says Fiorenza, "I could bring some
the next time I come here."
Fiorenza is not one to rush
when there isn't an emergency.
She is content to plant the seeds
and wait to see what will grow.
As she walks home from Fermo Fair, though,
her thoughts wander back to Giacinto
and the sleek dark wings of his hair
and the smooth cleft of his chin
under the shy smile.
Someday, she thinks,
she would like to see more of him,
for a witch-son seems far more interesting
than a village lout any day.