This poem was spillover from a January 2013 fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from rhodielady_47, kelkyag, and Dreamwidth user Cadenzamuse. It has been sponsored by marina_bonomi. This poem belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman.
that it was one thing to have
the craft of a wisewoman
in the growing and using of herbs,
and quite another to have
the authority of a wisewoman
in the eyes of the village people.
They would come to her
with their coughs and sprains,
with their complaints of malocchio
or the fate making the milk sour.
When she tried to warn them
of how their actions created their own problems,
however, nobody seemed to appreciate that.
"If you keep chasing skirts,
you are going to get some girl with child,
and then her father will come after you with his pitchfork,"
Fiorenza said to Pasquale down the lane.
Pasquale laughed and said,
"Never worry that it will be you,
so it's none of your business then."
"If you keep jumping to conclusions
without stopping to think about the consequences,
you are going to land yourself in a big puddle of trouble,"
Fiorenza said to Annalisa.
Annalisa shrugged and said,
"You think too much,
and where's the fun in that?"
"If you keep eating like that,
the fat in your belly will go to your heart
and kill you as surely as if an ox had sat upon you,"
Fiorenza said to the butcher Mario.
The butcher frowned and said,
"It is not for a silly young girl
to say such things to a family man."
Fiorenza found all this very frustrating,
but she did not know what to do about it.
Then one day the Commedia dell'arte
came to the village again.
The priest's young cousin Alessandro
listened to Fiorenza talking to the villagers,
then pulled her aside.
"If you keep telling people such painful truths,
you had better learn to make them laugh,
or else they are going to run you out of town,"
Alessandro warned her.
"You sound very sure of yourself,"
Fiorenza said suspiciously,
wondering if he was trying to make a fool of her.
"How do you think I became a comic?"
Alessandro said. "I see the truth
as clearly as my cousin the priest.
I simply do not deal with it the same as he does."
Fiorenza thought about that.
It was more important to convince people
to quit doing foolish things
than to get her own way,
and she already knew that the priest's way
would not work for her either.
"What would you suggest, then?"
Fiorenza said to Alessandro.
"Come and take a turn on the stage,"
he offered. "We have the usual ten in our compagnia --
two vecchi, four innamorati, two zanni,
a capitano, and a servetta --
but we keep also some spare masks and costumes
for other people who might wish to play a part."
"How will that help?" Fiorenza asked.
"I am an herbalist, not an actress."
"In a way, we almost become our characters,"
said Alessandro, who played Sandrone,
a farmer using his wits to make ends meet.
"You will find that people do not mind the truth
so much when it is wrapped in ribbons and masks."
So Fiorenza went with Alessandro to the wagon
that carried props and costumes for all the actors.
The comics were very odd people, always teasing
and laughing and poking fun at each other,
yet never seeming to take offense.
The capocomico in charge of the compagnia
listened to Fiorenza's problem and Alessandro's plan,
then declared, "We shall cast you as Colombina.
You will make an excellent cunning servant.
Now tell us the news from this village,
so that we may adapt our scenarios to suit."
They dressed Fiorenza in a patchwork gown
and covered her eyes with a golden mask
decorated in feathers and paste jewels,
then armed her with a tambourine.
Il Capitano appeared, all bluster and bravado,
hired to protect Pantalone's daughter
from unsuitable suitors, but instead
he tried to take advantage of her himself.
Colombina came to the aid of her mistress,
revealed the Spanish vampire,
and vanquished the gluttonous beast
with a pizza pie made of garlic and tomatoes.
He took a long time dying
while the audience howled in laughter.
"Al povero mancano tante cose, all'avaro tutte,"
Colombina observed as the corpse was carried away.
The poor man is lacking many things, the greedy man all.
Il Dottore too admonished his daughter
to guard her virtue, but Isabella desired Luzio.
Luzio chased after her most ardently --
until she waddled onto the stage with a big belly
and he fled both from her and her outraged father.
Then Colombina had to hide Luzio in the midden
to keep him from getting killed.
"Tira più un pelo di figa che un carro di buoi,"
Colombina scolded as she snuck him off the stage.
A woman's privates have more power of attraction
than an ox has power to pull a cart.
Then Sandrone and his wife appeared,
lamenting about how Pantalone was cheating them.
The wife was eager and gullible,
always falling for the merchant's lies;
but the merchant thought much of his little wit,
so that in the end Colombina and Sandrone
managed to trick him out of his ill-gotten gains.
"Chi non va non vede, chi non vede non sa e
chi non sa se lo prende sempre in culo,"
Colombina warned as she scattered the jewels
for the clowns to chase about the stage.
If you don't go you won't see, if you don't see you won't know,
if you don't know you'll get bitten in the butt every time.
The more they played, the more the people laughed.
The more the people laughed, the more Fiorenza learned.
It was an exercise in accomplishment all around.
When the compagnia had earned enough
to travel on to the next village,
Fiorenza thanked Alessandro for his help.
"You have taught me a great deal about people,"
she said, throwing her hands high up
in Colombina's characteristic gesture of celebration.
"This acting has sharpened my wits considerably."
"Your wits were always sharp," Alessandro said.
"Did you not once come to me and ask for a puppet
with which to feed orphaned grifflets? That was clever!
You merely needed to think more about how to apply
what you already know so as to get better results."
Then he handed her the mask of gold paint
and paste jewels and fanciful feathers.
"Keep Colombina as a reminder of that."
Fiorenza's fingers curled around it, petting the ribbons
which had tied it onto her face. "I should not.
Won't you need her in another play?"
"The characters come and go when we need them,"
Alessandro said. "The capocomico approves.
It is little enough payment for the splendid inspiration
that you gave us with all of your stories!"
So Fiorenza hung the mask of Colombina
on the wall of her cottage, and when people grew stubborn,
she reached for witty sayings and jokes and silly faces
to make them laugh and to wrap the truth
in ribbons enough for them to take it.
* * *
Malocchio is the Evil Eye, a kind of curse.
Read about Il Capitano and his role in the Commedia dell'arte.
Read about Columbina and her role. Look at some Columbina masks.
"Chi non va non vede, chi non vede non sa e chi non sa se lo prende sempre in culo."
-- Italian proverb
Read about Il Dottore and his role.
Read about Isabella and her role. She is one of the Innamorati, or lovers. Various male names are given to her partner; Luzio appears with her in The Love Machine.
Read about Pantalone and his role.
"Al povero mancano tante cose, all'avaro tutte."
-- Italian proverb
Read about Sandrone and his role.
A compagnia typically has a standard combination of performers and characters, such as the "usual ten."
"Tira più un pelo di figa che un carro di buoi."
-- Italian proverb
An explanation of this rude saying appeared in a forum thread.