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Poem: "Di Mezzo il Mare" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Di Mezzo il Mare"
This poem came out of the January 22, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from rix_scaedu, siliconshaman, ellenmillion, marina_bonomi, and Dreamwidth user Cadenzamuse.  Special thanks to marina_bonomi for cultural fact-checking.  This poem belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman.  It has been selected in an audience poll for sponsorship.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on  my profile page,   or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses
So far sponsors include: general fund, Shirley Barrette

222 lines, Buy It Now = $111
Amount donated = $35
Verses posted = 13 of 45

Amount remaining to fund fully = $76
Amount needed to fund next verse = $2.50
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $2

Di Mezzo il Mare

In Fiorenza's nineteenth year
came news from the sea:
her father Giordano had returned
from his long voyaging and
would soon arrive in Nocciolaia.

To the ordinary hustle and bustle of harvest
was added the need for a celebration,
as the lost husband of Marietta
and the missing father of Fiorenza
must be welcomed home in proper style.

Fiorenza flittered and flustered
about her little cottage for days,
tidying this and baking that
and trying not to panic over the idea
of meeting someone she had dreamed about
ever since her grandmother Carmela
had told her about him.

The day her father was to arrive,
Fiorenza hurried with the last of her tasks,
baking buccellato, the sweet round bread
full of sultana raisins and flavored with anise.

In the village there would surely be
a pig roasted whole and dressed with apples,
vegetables cooked in olive oil, wine-poached pears,
and sundry other celebratory dishes;
but Fiorenza wished to impress Giordano
with something made by her own hands.

When she finally met him,
Fiorenza was startled to discover
that he was not so large as she had imagined,
for Giordano stood half a hand shorter than herself.

Still there was something of her
in the stubborn set of his jaw
and the way he craned his neck
as he looked down and then up, saying,
"Why are you wearing breeches  like a boy?"

Fiorenza blushed, for she had been up before dawn
cleaning and cooking and gardening,
and had entirely forgotten to change clothes
before running in to the village.

"Because she has work to do, and
she doesn't want to get good clothes dirty,"
said Fiorenza's aunt, Zola, coming up behind them.
"Don't let your tongue run away with your wits, Giordano."

Zola steered Fiorenza into the nearest cottage
where Bettina waited with a sage-green dress.
"We thought you might get absorbed in practicalities
and forget about the festive parts," Bettina said
as she pinned a crown of autumn flowers
into the dark riot of Fiorenza's hair.

Fiorenza felt a little more confident
when she stepped out in the fine dress.
"Much better," Giordano declared.
"It will be easier to find you a proper husband
when you are dressed like a proper woman."

With those words, Fiorenza's world
went out from under her again.
She had never thought about
marriage in the same way
as the other village girls,
for all she'd helped Bettina
cope with challenges of that sort.

Growing up without a father as she did,
it had never occurred to Fiorenza
that someone might insist
on arranging a marriage for  her --
and what was she to tell Giacinto?

"I do not believe that any young men
in the village think of me that way,"
Fiorenza said carefully to Giordano.
"They are accustomed to coming to me
with head colds and bruised faces,
not with flowers in hand.
To them I am the wisewoman,
not a girl to be courted."

Giordano waved away her words.
"Your mother was a wisewoman's daughter
and she had no trouble catching my  eye,"
he said blithely. "Something will work out."

"Surely so," Fiorenza murmured.
This was not turning out at all
like any of her childhood daydreams.
Giordano was weathered and fierce
and had no idea how she fit into the village
or how the village had grown in his absence.
He ordered people around without a thought,
and she recalled someone mentioning
that he had captained his own ship.

Just when Fiorenza despaired
of pleasing her father in any  way,
he smiled softly and said,
"You look so much like your mother.
You have her hair and her eyes."
He tucked a stray lock of hair
behind Fiorenza's ear.
"I remember her as ... so beautiful."

Fiorenza fairly melted with joy
at his words of praise.

The feast was a marvel of harvest bounty.
Zola had done something splendid with apples
and a shipment of cardamom from the Indies.
Abelie had cleverly candied the borage flowers
with which she had whispered courage to Fiorenza.
Giordano raised an eyebrow at the spring delicacy,
but said only, "The world is full of wonders,"
and reached for a second slice of buccellato.

After the celebration, Giordano moved in
to the little cottage he had briefly shared
with his young wife and her mother,
which now housed Fiorenza and Mad Ercole.
It was a snug fit in more ways than one,
but they all tried earnestly to make it work.

"I brought this back from the sea,"
Giordano said to Fiorenza
as he offered her a small sack of gold.
"Thank you," Fiorenza said politely.
"We can put it in the dowry box with the rest."

Mad Ercole fetched out the little chest
from its space beneath a hearthstone.
Giordano frankly stared at the stacks
of gold, silver, and copper coins
and the jewels in their velvet-lined box.
Margherita had discovered
Fiorenza's fondness for emeralds,
so whenever she spoke of healing,
she saved one for Fiorenza.

"You must be quite  the herbalist indeed,"
Giordano said. "Such a dowry
will make it easier to find you a husband."
"It is good of you to say so," Fiorenza replied,
"although there is really no hurry."

"You are nearly twenty," said Giordano.
"That is reason enough to hurry."
Fiorenza turned away to look for her mending.

"Not like that, scemo!"   Giordano snapped.
Fiorenza whirled to find Mad Ercole
trying to replace the hearthstone the wrong way.
"Patience is a remedy for every sorrow,"
she said as she took the hearthstone and set it right.

"Why do you even have such a man under your roof?"
Giordano asked. "People will doubt your virtue."

From somewhere Fiorenza found
a sudden sturdiness of oak in her spine.
"Ercole is a veteran of the siege of Fermo,"
she said, "and you will treat him with respect."
Giordano looked away and muttered,
"You may have your mother's eyes,
but you have your grandmother's voice."

So it went, with everyone trying to do well
and all tripping over each other instead.
"This morning I stepped on the cat,"
Giordano said to Fiorenza,
"and she cried 'Goffo!'  at me.
How has my life come to this?"

"You moved into a wisewoman's cottage,"
Fiorenza said. "Was it any less strange
when it belonged to my grandmother and mother?"
"Well," Giordano admitted, "there was a talking dove..."

Later that day, Fiorenza was brushing the burrs
out of Marchesa Micia's fur. "I do not know
what is wrong," Fiorenza said.
"Giordano will not leave me alone,
but he does not seem to like me much either
and certainly he is not very happy here."

"Perhaps you are not the only one,"
Marchesa Micia said wisely, "for whom the reality
swings wide of the daydreaming."

When Giacinto visited Nocciolaia to ask
if Fiorenza would help him gather hazelnuts
since she cast better fertility charms than he did,
Fiorenza's father was more than a bit scandalized
to learn that the two of them had been keeping company
since they met at the market in Fermo.

"A witch-son who wears his mother's skirts?"
Giordano said. "Surely you can do better than that."
Fiorenza fastened her wolfskin hat over her ears
and said, "Not so easily as you might imagine."
With that she took her basket and left.

In the village it went no better.
Giordano snapped at Zola when
she suggested giving Fiorenza more space.
"I am her father! She should make space for me."

"You have been out of Fiorenza's life
these nineteen years," Zola pointed out.
"You can hardly expect to sail back in
and take a father's berth in her harbor
as if you had been gone but a day."

"Yet society expects it of me,"
he said heavily. "Now that I am here,
I am the one who is responsible for her."

Zola shrugged. "Fiorenza has done well enough
taking responsibility for herself," she said,
"and half the village besides." Zola picked up
her basket of apples and walked away.

By that point, of course, everyone was staring --
the children, the old women in the parish garden
covering the beds with leaves, even the priest.

"I say to you, I am trying o be a good father,"
Giordano declared as he flung up his hands.
"What do you have to say to that?
For it seems that everyone has an opinion!"

"Tra il dire e il fare c´è di mezzo il mare,"
Don Candido said calmly, crossing his arms.
Between saying and doing there lies the sea.

That evening when Giordano went home
to the little cottage near the edge of the village,
he asked Fiorenza, "Is there anything here
that needs to be done before winter?"

She looked up at him in surprise,
for her father ordered often and asked rarely.
"I suppose the roof could use some attention,"
she said in a careful tone.
She could mend the chicken house,
but the cottage wanted more skill than that.

"Tomorrow I will climb up and look at it,"
said Giordano. "I used to do such things here
in my youth. Perhaps it will be of some help."

"Yes," Fiorenza said, watching him thoughtfully.
She had thought she had the measure of Giordano
by now, but perhaps she had underestimated him.

Even in the middle of the sea,
a ship might change its course.

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Current Mood: busy busy

15 comments or Leave a comment
e_scapism101 From: e_scapism101 Date: January 27th, 2013 11:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Someone needs to get back on his boat. Quickly.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 28th, 2013 02:07 am (UTC) (Link)


I love my audience.
ravan From: ravan Date: January 28th, 2013 04:50 am (UTC) (Link)
Not even a "Hello, how are you? I've missed you, my how you've grown!", just a "I get to barter you away like a poker chip in marriage!"

He needs to have some spells on him to make him forget that nonsense.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 28th, 2013 05:45 am (UTC) (Link)


In his defense, Fiorenza is not an ordinary girl and thus not at all what he may have been expecting. That kind of threw him off his stride.

He's not a complete waste of space, just ... not socially graceful.

You're not the only one wishing him fixed or banished, though.
From: rhodielady_47 Date: January 28th, 2013 08:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

Actually the way he's acting is normal for non-modern or non-western people no matter how draconian we westerners might think it is.
Many of the Indian, Arab, African, and Korean students I've met down through the years have told me real horror stories about how their parents approached finding them spouses. (Many of them haven't gone home in years for fear of arriving home just in time for the wedding to begin--literally.)
One Indian girl proudly told me that she'd finally managed to argue her father into presenting her with a set of CHOICES to choose from. It turned out that as long as the man was a doctor, her father was okay with her marrying him.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 28th, 2013 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

>>Actually the way he's acting is normal for non-modern or non-western people no matter how draconian we westerners might think it is.<<


Also imagine the fun of being expected to furnish a spouse for someone you don't even know. Who at first glance is not very marriageable. For which society will blame you, even though you just got there.

>>Many of the Indian, Arab, African, and Korean students I've met down through the years have told me real horror stories about how their parents approached finding them spouses. (Many of them haven't gone home in years for fear of arriving home just in time for the wedding to begin--literally.)<<

Yep, that still happens.

>>One Indian girl proudly told me that she'd finally managed to argue her father into presenting her with a set of CHOICES to choose from. It turned out that as long as the man was a doctor, her father was okay with her marrying him.<<

Choices are fairly common, though. So is family negotiation over what is desired in a mate.

Also just plain holding out for several years can lead to ...
"Marry a high-caste Hindu doctor."
"Marry a high-caste Hindu with a good job."
"Have you met any high-caste Hindu men lately? Dear?"
"Dear gods, at least let him be a Hindu."
"Please tell me you're still considering Indian men."
"Marry someone with testicles already. Anyone. Really."
"I don't care if you marry a GOAT, just pick SOMEONE so I can have grandchildren before I DIE!!111!!"

On the other hoof, some folks have tried the western dating practice and concluded that hiring a go-between is much more efficient and less aggravating. So I'm all in favor of that as long as the participants are willing and have similar goals regarding marriage. I don't see anything wrong with deciding, "I want to have a family and I want to pair up with someone else compatible who also wants that." It's the forced part that I object to, and sheesh, people get that about dating too.
From: rhodielady_47 Date: January 28th, 2013 09:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

"It's the forced part that I object to, and sheesh, people get that about dating too."

There's a news story on the internet I saw today about a woman who planned HER wedding 9 years before she found her groom.
Now down South that's not at all unusual seeing as how many little girls are asked regularly by their grandma's and aunts what sort of wedding dress they'd like. Many girls acquire a hope chest long before they're out of high school (and they start buying things to put in it too). It's just accepted that that's something women do and men pay for.
I had an excellent laugh at the numbers of knocking masculine knees in the comments following this article. No Bravehearts there!

ellenmillion From: ellenmillion Date: January 30th, 2013 09:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really love the ending of this - it would have been easy to leave Giordano as a villain, and I like that he is allowed to grow and try to adapt.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 30th, 2013 10:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> I really love the ending of this <<

I'm happy to hear that.

>> it would have been easy to leave Giordano as a villain, and I like that he is allowed to grow and try to adapt. <<

This is something I've been wanting to write about for a while. When someone grows up not knowing one or both of their birth parents, there's a tendency to wonder about them; and conversely, to wonder about a child that one has not raised personally. Some people obsess over it, most wonder moderately, but everyone aware of that situation tends to think about it at least a little bit. What are they doing? What are they like?

So then if you meet later, it tends to feel important, even if nothing heavy is riding on it and you weren't constantly wondering. Thing is ... usually it doesn't come to much. Maybe you stay in touch, maybe not. But almost all the time, the person you meet is ordinary. They have good and bad points. It's rare for a meeting to go perfectly or abominably, just because saintly and diabolical individuals are rare.

If you look at literature about this stuff, though, the overwhelming trend consists of daydreams or nightmares. There's almost nothing, anywhere, about what actually happens the vast majority of the time. That's really frustrating, and it doesn't make a dicey situation any easier when you don't have realistic scenarios to think about.

Here we have a young woman who has had to grow up early to take on responsibilities that normally wouldn't come to her until middle age or later; and an older man who has been kept away from family by work and circumstance for many years. They have a common background but they don't know each other. They each have strengths and weaknesses. They've daydreamed about each other on occasion, but mostly they've been busy living their own lives. When flung together, they find that it's not an easy fit, which is fairly typical. This is a fair example of how it can go when meeting a relative for the first time as an adult.

They do have the advantage of coming from a culture that teaches family/community skills as a matter of course, so they have some idea how to troubleshoot when their lives don't mesh neatly at first. They also have the advantage of a surrounding community of people who will do things like remind Fiorenza to put on a dress or tell Giordano to heed his daughter's role in the village. That part is idealized, because it helps to know what kinds of support are possible whether or not those things are available in a given situation.

I'm really glad this comes across as a satisfying encounter.
siege From: siege Date: January 30th, 2013 10:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Don Candido is particularly wise in the saying he used. Giacinto is a sailor, and to tell him to sail the water he's in is of course how he will understand to look at the wind-flag and choose a new heading.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 30th, 2013 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)


I went looking for a saying to go with the prompt and found that one; it was such a perfect match that it shaped much of the poem.

In order to communicate, match someone's preferred metaphor. Giacinto's life metaphor is presumably "life is a sailing ship." Fiorenza's is probably "life is a garden."
jenny_evergreen From: jenny_evergreen Date: January 30th, 2013 11:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
My husband and I hit upon that early in our relationship...we called it "finding his channel". (Although he's not particularly into TV or anything. He's actually a car geek.)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 31st, 2013 12:11 am (UTC) (Link)


It's interesting to hear about people with experiences like that.
rowyn From: rowyn Date: January 31st, 2013 02:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Goodness, I had no idea Fiorenza was still supposed to be so young.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 31st, 2013 02:58 am (UTC) (Link)


There have been clues but not a lot of specifics. "A Knot of Thyme" says that Fiorenza's grandmother Carmela died when Fiorenza "was three years a woman." Figuring 13 as a typical age of puberty, that's about 16 when Fiorenza took on the role of wisewoman. From there I tried to count the seasons of the years as mentioned in various poems.

Bear in mind that Renaissance people counted age differently. People usually married young, and most of the time that was shortly after puberty, so middle teens. (Remember that Juliet was 13, almost 14, in Romeo & Juliet.) But it wasn't unusual for someone to marry quite early, like 9 or 10, especially among wealthy or noble families. They learned to take on responsibility a lot earlier, especially if there wasn't anyone else available for certain tasks. Late teens would be the end of young adulthood: almost everyone would have married by then and probably have one or more children. Not being married at 20 often meant never marrying at all, a very unusual outcome generally frowned upon.

Part of Fiorenza's challenge in developing her authority iss not just that she's young, but also single; a lot of the respect comes from being a parent. But she's too busy, doesn't like any of the village boys, and they don't think of her that way. Despite her chronological youth, she has enough experience and maturity to do the work, though it takes her a while to catch up her social skills to the level of her herbalism skills. That aspect of maturity can also make her seem older.

You're not the only person to be surprised by the age, though. my_partner_doug was too. I should probably have cued it more precisely sooner.
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