Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Husband by Hand"

This is your free serial poem, selected by the audience in a poll, since the September 6, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl met the $150 goal.  It was prompted by laffingkat and jenny_evergreen.  minor_architect also wanted to see another Fiorenza poem with magical aspects, and marina_bonomi and I have been discussing Italian fairytales.  One of my favorite fairytales has been written down with such names as "Sir Marzipan" or "Mr. Semolina," and an Italian version is "Pintosmalto."  However, Fiorenza takes a rather more practical approach.  If you look closely, you can see multiple motifs that are traditional to European fairytales.

Sfogliatelle  are Italian pastries that resemble seashells and may contain various types of filling.  Filone  is an everyday yeast bread.

See a lovely illustration of "Husband by Hand" drawn by meeksp.

Husband by Hand

In Fiorenza's village there lived a merchant
and his two lovely daughters.
Otoniel wished for his daughters to marry,
but they kept refusing.

One day the younger daughter, Bettina,
came to Fiorenza and said,
"There is no man in this village
that I want to marry,
but my father will not leave me alone."
Then she showed Fiorenza an old, worn book.
"I found this book of spells in the attic,
in a trunk that belonged to my mother.
I want you to help me make a husband."

"Could you not simply go with your father
to Fermo the next time he needs to trade?"
Fiorenza asked, dubiously riffling through the book.

"I asked," Bettina said as she spread her hands,
"but he refused to let me travel with him."
Fiorenza snorted.  "Then he must not want you to wed
all that  badly, after all," she said.
"Well, I don't particularly want to die an old maid, either,"
said Bettina.  "Won't you help me?"
"I suppose we can at least look at the spell,"
Fiorenza relented.

"Here, this is the page," said Bettina.
Fiorenza read the recipe and the incantation
that came with it.  A frown grew and grew as she read.
"Half a hundredweight each of Palermo sugar and sweet almonds,
bottles of rosewater, rubies and pearls and thread-of-gold ...
a trough of rosewood and a trowel of silver?"
She threw up her hands.  "This recipe is ridiculous!"
Fiorenza declared.  "If you made a husband out of this,
he would look like a foreigner,
and doubtless run off to marry some princess."

"Well, what do you think I should do?"
Bettina asked.

"We will just have to make a new recipe for the spell," Fiorenza said.
"You may certainly ask your father for some sugar and almonds,
but we will need flour and a pair of dried plums as well.
You must gather some eggs and milk a cow,
to give your husband a connection to this village.
We will scrub out a watering trough and mix the dough in that.
Then you must shape your husband with your own hands
and tell him all your hopes and dreams.
Finally we will ask the baker to let us use his largest oven,
and you will have a husband made of good country bread."

"What about the gold?" Bettina asked.
She pointed to a line in the spell.
"It seems important."
Fiorenza laid a fingertip on Bettina's locket
that the girl wore in remembrance of her mother.
"You already have all the gold you will need."

So they gathered up the sugar and flour and dried plums.
Bettina worked hard to find the rosy eggs
and to milk the patient red-gold cow.
Fiorenza helped her clean the trough, but insisted
that Bettina do all the kneading with her own two hands.
Meanwhile Fiorenza prepared a batch of sfogliatelle
and filled the pastries with sweet almond paste.
She enjoyed baking as a hobby, though she wouldn't want
to do it for a living.  The two women worked all night.

Near dawn, they laid out their dough on two boards.
Bettina removed her mother's locket from around her neck,
kissed it one last time, and pressed the golden heart
into the chest of the dough-man. 
They recited the incantation over him,
but they would not know if the spell succeeded
until he came out of the oven.

Next they carried everything to the baker.
"We are baking a great many almond sfogliatelle,"
Fiorenza said to him.  "If you let us borrow your big oven,
we will give you some of the pastries after they are done."
Fond of Fiorenza's baking, the man readily agreed.

It was so early that nobody else was around to see them,
and the women quickly stuffed the dough-man into the oven
while the baker was busy with his own work.
Then they added the sfogliatelle  and closed the door.

Fiorenza and Bettina lingered
to keep an eye on their baking,
though they were quick to pull the baker's goods
out of the other ovens when the loaves of bread were done. 
The baker thanked them absently,
already busy with the first customers of the day.
Fortunately he was engaged in selling a basket of filone
when the screaming started.

"Help!  Help!" yelled the bread-man.
"Let me out of this oven before I burn up!"
Fiorenza yanked open the door
and Bettina pulled him out of the oven.
He had a round face with toasty skin,
dark eyes and dark brown hair.
"My name is Arrigo," he said to them.
Fiorenza left him to Bettina
while she took out her sfogliatelle.

"Now, what was all that noise about?"
the baker asked as he hurried over to them.
"Oh, we were just worried that the pastries might burn,"
said Fiorenza.  "I'm sorry if we distracted you.
Here, have some almond buns."
She filled a basket for him, and collected her own,
and then she was ready to leave.

But when Bettina and Fiorenza turned around,
the bread-man was nowhere to be seen.
"Where is Arrigo?" Fiorenza asked.
"I don't know!" Bettina wailed.
"I pushed him just around the corner
so that the baker wouldn't see him,
and I told him to stay there, but now he's gone!"

They looked and looked,
but they found no sign of Arrigo.
Fiorenza clenched her hand on her basket,
and Bettina sniffled, trying not to cry.
At last they gave up and parted company,
heading toward their homes.

As Fiorenza walked past the church, however,
she heard Bettina's sister Bianca arguing
with Don Candido.  Bianca wanted him
to perform a wedding at once, while he protested
that it would be improper without her father.

Now Bianca was a lazy, greedy girl
more interested in a man's looks
than in his ability to be a good husband.
She had not shown interest in any of the village lads,
so naturally Fiorenza became suspicious.

Fiorenza snuck up on them and peeked into the church.
There stood Bianca with an arm around Arrigo.
Quickly Fiorenza ran to find Bettina.

"You must bring your father to the church at once,"
Fiorenza said to Bettina. 
"Your sister Bianca is trying to marry Arrigo."
"How can I stop her?" asked Bettina.
"Well, Don Candido won't perform the ceremony
without your father present," said Fiorenza.
"Once you bring your father to the church, you must
tell him that Bianca is trying to steal your intended."

"What if Arrigo likes her better?" said Bettina.
"All the boys say that Bianca is prettier than I am."
"You made him with your own hands," said Fiorenza.
"Find some way to remind him of that."

Fiorenza hurried back to the church.
"There is no need to fight like cats on a fence,"
she said to Bianca and Don Candido.
"Bettina is bringing her father here,
and I have plenty of sfogliatelle  to share
with any guests, so there is no reason
why a wedding cannot take place shortly."

Bettina showed up with Otoniel in tow,
plus a number of other villagers
trailing along to see what was going on.
"Arrigo is to be my  husband, not Bianca's,"
Bettina announced before the crowd.
"No, he's mine," her sister protested.
Arrigo said nothing.

"This is no way to behave in a church,"
Don Candido scolded them. 
"Clearly you are not ready to get married
if you cannot even agree on who is marrying whom!"
Both Bianca and Bettina were pleading with Arrigo.
"Well, who did you intend to marry?"
Otoniel demanded, turning to him.
Arrigo only shrugged.

"I'll just remind him who he really loves,"
said Bianca.  She grabbed Arrigo and kissed him.
He gave no sign of approval or protest.

Next Bettina clasped Arrigo's hand in hers
and pressed her other palm to his chest.
"Remember who gave you her heart," she said.

Then Arrigo smiled.
"You did," he said to Bettina.

Bianca squealed in outrage
and stormed out of the church.
The other villagers crowded near, though,
eager to see if there would be a wedding after all.
Bettina looked at her father, who nodded his head. 
"You have my blessing," he said.
"I just want to see you happily married."

So Don Candido conducted the ceremony
and Fiorenza handed out almond buns to all the guests,
and Bettina took her husband by hand and led him away.

When Don Candido later pulled Fiorenza aside
and asked her how Bettina and Arrigo came together,
Fiorenza just smiled and said, "I may have had a hand in it,
but Bettina was the one who knew what she kneaded."

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, romance, writing
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