This poem came from the January 22, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from wyld_dandelyon and Dreamwidth user Cadenzamuse. It has been selected in an audience poll for sponsorship out of the general fund. This poem belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman. You can read more about Italian Christmas traditions and holiday foods online.
A cold wind brought with it
thin sheets of fine dry snow that
draped over the cottages in the village
and around the presepio beside the church
with its figures of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus
flanked by a donkey and an ox.
In the dead of winter
the trees stood black and bare,
the withered gardens hidden under
layers of leaves and ice.
Still there were flowers, white lilies
whispered forth by Abelie's enchanted breath,
twined with sprigs of holly and pine.
Fiorenza made panforte,
the holiday fruitcake dense with honey
and spiced with cloves, coriander, and cinnamon.
She set up the ceppo
in a corner of the cottage
with candied fruits and spiced nuts
on some shelves and small gifts on others.
It was awkward,
this first holiday season
with her father Giordano here,
but Fiorenza forged her way through it
with brisk determination.
She gave her father a jacket
of warm gray wool, so that
he could stand outside on foggy mornings
and not shiver himself to bits.
He gave her a necklace of fine lace
made to fit close about her throat, worked with
beads of Venetian glass in red and green
and a few tiny seed pearls.
To her surprise, he did not forget
Ercole either, and presented the veteran
with a stout staff of polished oak.
Fiorenza herself had given Ercole
a new linen shirt, chased around the sleeves
with embroidered ivy and sprigs of laurel.
They went to the church service,
and Fiorenza was wildly certain
that the faint echo of angel-song
which set everyone on the edge of their seats
had something to do with the decorative angels
wearing wings of shed griffin-feathers.
She knew, too, that the shepherds
would have gone out earlier
to leave their offerings
at the tiny, ancient shrines in the fields
in honor of holidays older still.
At home, in the cottage,
Fiorenza and Giordano
looked at each other and then away,
scant words skittering over the silence.
Now and again, Fiorenza's gaze
snagged on the blue glaze of the memory-jar
that sat upon the mantelpiece,
silent reminder of the mother/wife
who was not there to sit between them
like a bridge spanning two riverbanks.
Ercole sat on a bench
and stroked an oiled cloth
over his fine new staff,
positioned far back from the fire
because he could not quite remember
why to be careful of the flames.
Fiorenza rose to lay another log
in the hearth, heat rippling over her hands
like invisible silk, sweet with the perfume
of pine and apple and oak.
Outside the wind whistled and then fell still.
She took up her knitting, then,
and twisted together long strands
of white and brown wool into a single scarf.
It was not always so simple
to join things that were very different,
but Fiorenza thought,
as she looked at the graceful design,
it was worth the work anyhow.
* * *
Buon Natale -- Italian for "Merry Christmas" although the literal meaning is "happy birthday."
presepio -- an Italian creche with figures of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and the farm animals.
panforte -- a type of holiday sweet, essentially an Italian fruitcake.
ceppo -- a wooden holiday fixture shaped roughly like a tree, with little shelves to hold treats.