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Poem: "Farm and Field" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Farm and Field"

This poem came out of the September 6, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from stryck, thesilentpoet, and haikujaguar.  It was sponsored by marina_bonomi.  

You can learn more about the heritage breeds of Italian livestock online.  Other poems about Fiorenza, the Italian Herbalist are listed on the serial poetry page of my website.

Farm and Field

Fiorenza is the one whom the farmers call
to care for the livestock when something goes wrong.

She makes the pungent powder
to kill pests on the red-and-black Pepoi hens
who cluck their way through the gardens
and lay a trail of pale rosy eggs.

She makes the soothing salve
for the chapped teats of the Reggiana cows
with their warm brown eyes and coats the color of red wheat,
who give the good milk for reggiano cheese.

She makes the sweet oil
for painting the dry hooves of the black Norico horses
who work in draft teams to plow and harvest the fields,
patient as the slowly turning wheel of the seasons.

Fiorenza winds her way through farm and field,
picking as she goes,
leaf and flower and root and bark
all in one basket on her right arm,
and on the left, another basket
that the farmers fill
with eggs and cheese and bread.

It is that food she thinks of
when she holds the fuzzy chicks in the palm of her hand
or leans against the fragrant flank of a cow
or strokes the velvet noses of the foals.
These beasts stand behind everything her people eat,
their red and black colors setting the palette of the village
and appearing in pastoral paintings
up in the city of Fermo.
When she walks through the village
covered in mud or manure,
a heavy basket in each hand,
Don Candido shakes his head at her
but says nothing,
and she knows why.

Fiorenza has seen him decorate the church
at the end of the year,
and she remembers his large gentle hands
laying out the creche
with the Christ child surrounded by
red-and-black hens and wheat-red cows
and draft horses as black as the good Italian earth.

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13 comments or Leave a comment
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: September 8th, 2011 04:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
*smile* I like it. Too many people forget where our food comes from.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm happy to hear that.

Yes, people forget. Part of my job as a bard is to remind people of the things they have forgotten. This fishbowl turned out some poems that are very useful for that.

Me, I know where food comes from. I've butchered chickens. Heck, I've reduced a whole cleaned lamb carcass to pieces that would fit into an oven. I find cute animals appetizing. We buy locally produced eggs and dairy when we can. I prefer to support farm animals with happy lives until it's time for them to enter the food chain as products.
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: September 8th, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

I have not yet butchered anything, but my grandfather was a farmer and I've always known where my meat comes from, at least in the beef-cow pork-pig sort of way.

I used to be startled when I met people who didn't know these things. It saddens me that they seem to be the rule, not the exception.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 04:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

That's a good thing to know. Like you, I think it's odd that so many people don't understand where their food comes from.

*chuckle* But town kids aren't actually any dumber now than they used to be, they're just dumb in different ways. My grandmother told stories about how town kids in her youth thought that you got milk from a cow by pumping her tail and that brown cows gave chocolate milk. Something tells me that the town kids in the city of Ur probably thought that milk came from ceramic urns on a donkey cart.
bovidae From: bovidae Date: September 8th, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Love it. I'm a born-bred-raised farmer, so I felt particularly moved to comment on this one. I love that it isn't just "she treats the animals" but the real specifics of parasites, chapped teats, and chipped hooves.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 04:46 pm (UTC) (Link)


That's an example of my fascination with concrete details. While I didn't grow up on a working farm in this life, I did grow up in a rural area and we did raise some our own food. I also have stories and farmemory to draw on. And the specific examples in this poem? When I was six, I got my hands on a very hefty home veterinary manual for farmers. The details stuck in mind.

I think it makes a difference when a poem anchors itself in a particular place, and it's the details that create that effect. Specific breeds, specific complaints -- those help put the reader's boots on the ground. I've noticed that my most popular poems, and especially the series, tend to run heavy on local color. I don't think that's an accident.
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 04:56 pm (UTC) (Link)


There is power in the old pastoral stuff. I have a fondness for classic Greek and Roman (and Etruscan, and Minoan ...) material. That part of the world has long had a very close relationship with the land, and a deep awareness of the spirit-of-place. There are still sacred groves on the hilltops in some places, and old shrines to the genus loci tucked away. One of these times, I ought to go looking for that stuff around Fiorenza's village; I know it's there.
siege From: siege Date: September 8th, 2011 06:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Who would have built such a shrine, and would Fiorenza and Don Candido have anything to say to each other about it?

For that matter, what of the other villagers? They surely aren't all sheep to the Don's hand in every matter.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 10th, 2011 05:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

>>Who would have built such a shrine, and would Fiorenza and Don Candido have anything to say to each other about it?<<

The shrines are old remnants of Pagan worship. Such things are scattered around Europe even today. The Romans, among other cultures, had a layered religious life and they were very into local spirits. Also, Christianity was a city religion long before it became popular in the countryside, and it wasn't rare for people to practice both.

Fiorenza's world seems a little more laid-back about religion, more inclined towards genteel competition than constant violence. I think the mystical aspects make people more inclined to use whatever works, and Christianity and Paganism are good for different things. The result is not quite as syncretic as, say, Mexico but more so than our version of Italy.

The time period matters too. This is later than the phase when Christians were all splitting into a zillion 'heresies' and enthusiastically butchering each other for worshipping the same God the 'wrong' way. *ponder* Though I suddenly have to wonder if Fiorenza's people were a little more successful in grasping that 'love thy neighbor' advice. Most of the villagers seem inclined to put up with each other's aggravating traits -- they grumble about it, but they aren't trying to murder each other or run anyone out of town.

>> For that matter, what of the other villagers? They surely aren't all sheep to the Don's hand in every matter. <<

It probably varies from one person or family to another. Clearly there's enough traffic to support the church. There are probably a bunch of people who casually leave offerings at the shrines, and who follow certain superstitions, but they may or may not think of that as "worship" or "magic" -- even if it works. It's just this thing they do. Conversely there may be some people who don't bother going to church, though in a small community, most people probably do whether they are personally enthusiastic or not.

I'm still exploring the religious life there. It's kind of interesting.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: September 9th, 2011 03:00 am (UTC) (Link)
And another Fiorenza poem bereft of supernatural crisis! :) I rather like this one, as it builds a picture of her relationship to the land and the people who depend upon it.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 9th, 2011 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)


It's interesting to watch this series grow. I think that, as people learn more about Fiorenza and her village, they become more curious about the everyday life as well as the big mystical crises. Some of the questions raised in current discussions are likely to spawn more pastoral pieces. Which is fine with me, because I really like pastorals.
eseme From: eseme Date: September 10th, 2011 02:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I love the local color in this. The specific breeds of chicken and cow and horse, which I know you researched and are all native to Italy.

It also sounds lovely, all that red and black.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 10th, 2011 02:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

Yes, I was lucky enough to find a website with descriptions for dozens of native Italian breeds across various types of livestock. marina_bonomi is helping me figure out some additional animals that may appear here and in Giacinto's village, in Fermo, etc. People really responded to this poem, so I'm looking to do more that will feature local animals in different ways.
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