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Poem: "Their Blood Is Upon Them" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Their Blood Is Upon Them"

This poem came out of the September 3, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from technoshaman.  It also fills the "suicide attempt" square in my 8-12-13 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest.  This poem was sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  It belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman.

WARNING: The following poem (along with its notes) features some intense and controversial topics. These include homophobia, gossip, bullying, emotional and spiritual abuse, Christianity behaving badly, depression, attempted suicide, messy early-medical details, and general communityFAIL. If these are sensitive topics for you, please think very carefully about your tastes and current mindstate before deciding whether to read onward.

Their Blood Is Upon Them

The Zingari  came again to Nocciolaia
with their bright wagons and prancing horses,
their clothes vivid with silk ribbons, and
their bittersweet music floating in the summer air.

Fiorenza's cousin Timoteo
found them fascinating
and hung about the caravan.

He soon made friends with
a young man named Emilian,
and the two of them
romped through the village
with boundless enthusiasm.

Fiorenza thought nothing of it
until Annalisa came to her
all a-flutter with the news
that Timoteo and Emilian
had gotten caught
tumbling in a haystack.

"I suppose that explains
why Timoteo has shown no interest
in the girls of the village,"
Fiorenza said with a shrug.

"How can you say such a thing?"
Annalisa exclaimed.
"It's indecent!  It's a sin!"

"It's their business
and none of mine,"
Fiorenza said to her,
"since it harms no one."

Annalisa flounced away
to pursue her gossip elsewhere,
and Fiorenza went back
to pulling weeds from her garden.

The village flew into a frenzy,
though, and the Zingari
were driven away early.

"Blame it on that traveling tramp,"
Timoteo's friends advised him,
"for anyone might be led astray
by such a scoundrel, and
it will soon blow over."

"I'm the one who asked him,"
Timoteo said quietly,
and his friends fell silent.

Don Candido delivered a sermon
about the duties of husband and wife,
the dangers of temptation,
and assorted variations
on the sin of lust.

As if that wasn't enough,
he hounded Timoteo after church
and suggested it was high time
that he seek for a bride.

"You seem mightily invested
in meddling in someone else's affairs,"
Fiorenza said to Don Candido.
"One might think you're protesting so hard
to keep people from thinking the same of you."

Don Candido sighed and said,
"A priest is meant to be chaste, Fiorenza.
It is not for me to seek a wife,
nor despoil myself with another man.
Familial duties fall to others.
My task is to warn people from sin."

That warning seemed to have
done no good with Timoteo.
Meanwhile it whipped the villagers
into a froth of fresh gossip.

Fiorenza watched as Timoteo
drifted away from the church,
looking wan and distracted.
His mother Zola called after him
but he did not respond.

Even the men of the village
were chattering in little clusters,
but Fiorenza's father Giordano
declined to join them.

"I am surprised by your forbearance,"
Fiorenza said honestly.  "In most things
you are more conservative,
and quicker to criticize."

"In most things, I do not hear
trouble brewing in people's words
like a storm at sea," Giordano replied
as he stared down the lane
where Timoteo had disappeared.

Fiorenza put the matter out of mind
because it was not something
that she could mend with herbs,
and everyone was more interested
in reciting bits of the sermon
to support their prattle
than in her words of wisdom,
though she said "A ciascuno il suo!"
to anyone who would listen.

Then one evening,
Giordano rushed into the cottage
carrying the limp form of Timoteo
who had slit his wrists open
like two fish gutted for salting.

Fiorenza hastened to stanch the flow of blood
and lace the skin back together with black thread.
She bandaged Timoteo's arms from wrist to elbow
and tucked him into bed with warm bricks and blankets.
Throughout it all, he neither moved nor protested,
and only the faint whisper of his breath proved his life.

"Do you think I caught him in time?"
Giordano asked hoarsely.
"I've had my eye on the lad,
but he slipped me earlier today
and it took me a while to find him again."

"We can hope," Fiorenza said,
stroking Timoteo's cool skin.
"He's still alive, so that's something.
He's young and strong.
He hasn't woken, though,
and that's a worry."

"Will you fetch the priest for him?"
Giordano asked her.
"I suppose I should," Fiorenza said,
"though I don't know if he'd come
after all that fuss in church --
and I don't want to leave Timoteo."

Her father dragged a stool
beside the bed and sat there,
holding Timoteo's pale, still hand.
"I'll stay with him," Giordano said.

"It's kind of you to look after him
when everyone else is so outraged,"
Fiorenza observed as she tidied up.

"Sailors spend a great deal of time
traveling far from shore, Fiorenza,
and there are no women on a ship,"
Giordano said.  "Some of the men thus
take comfort amongst themselves."

Well, that made a species of sense.

Fiorenza cleared away some jars
from her workspace and found
a hunting knife left behind,
its blade streaked with red.
"What's this?" she asked.

"Timoteo's knife," said Giordano.
"It's a fine tool; I didn't want
to leave it behind to rust away."

"Perhaps," said Fiorenza,
"I shall go see the priest after all.'

She walked to the church,
moonlight painting the world silver,
Timoteo's knife heavy in her hand.

Don Candido was there,
a silent and solemn figure
lit by flickering candlelight
as he puttered around the altar.

"Timoteo needs your help,"
Fiorenza said to him.

"Whatever trouble he has found now
is surely the result of his sin,"
said Don Candido.  "I can do nothing
for him until he repents of it,
and he has refused to do that."

Fiorenza slammed the bloody knife
onto the altar between them.
"My cousin tried to murder  himself tonight.
What have you got to say about that?"

Don Candido looked up in shock.
"Suicide is a sin too."

Fiorenza slapped him in the face.

"Is that all you can think about!?"
she snarled at him.
"How about thinking on how to
prevent him from trying again?"

"He will not listen to a word I say,"
Don Candido said wearily, one hand
rubbing his cheek where the skin bloomed pink.
"He has said so often enough this past week. 
Have done.  You are not the one who had to try
to talk sense into a fellow who is determined
to think with what he keeps in his breeches."

"Well you're not the one
who had to sew up a young man's arms
like the sleeves of a ripped shirt,"
Fiorenza retorted.

Don Candido winced.  "I am sorry for that,"
he said.  "Of course I never meant for it
to come to this.  I only intended
to shame Timoteo into proper behavior.
I truly hope he has learned his lesson --"

"And to think I came here for your help,
believing you might be a comfort to him,
but no, you care more about his carousing
than about his life,"  Fiorenza said.
She picked up the knife again. 
"I've changed my mind, Don Candido.
If he looks to be dying, I'll send for you,
but otherwise I don't trust you with him."

The priest gazed in the direction
where her cottage lay, frowning,
a look of intense concentration on his face.
"Timoteo will survive this," Don Candido said.

For all her fury at the priest,
Fiorenza was grateful to him for
sharing the gift of his godfather Death.
"Thank you for that," she said quietly. 

"It is little enough, after all that has passed,"
Don Candido said.  His eyebrows
pinched together as if he had a headache.
Fiorenza could well imagine
that his week had gone no better than hers.
"What will you do with Timoteo now?"

"I'll tend him until he's well enough to travel,"
she said, "and then I'll take him to Faggiola.
Aunt Zola will not argue with me about that.
At least there he can get away from the gossips."

"Do you think they will welcome him?"
Don Candido asked.  "It will not help
to move him from one trouble to another,
with no family to stand by his side there."

"They put up with a witch-son
who wears skirts," Fiorenza said.
"I think I can trust them with
a man who fancies other men."

Don Candido merely nodded at that.
Fiorenza left him to his prayers, then,
and walked back home by moonlight.

It was outrageous of her to have slapped him,
for a wisewoman should keep her temper leashed.
She could even sympathize with his position -- 
after all, it was  a priest's responsibility
to mind the morals of the village --
but she still felt uneasy when she thought
about the damage that work had done.

When Fiorenza reached her cottage,
she found Timoteo awake and listening
to Giordano tell some improbable story
about a fish with a fin the size of a sail.
Timoteo still looked fragile, but
he fixed on the tale with rapt attention.

Fiorenza sat on the edge of the bed and
touched her fingertips to Timoteo's throat
to feel the flutter of his heartbeat there.
He would not meet her gaze,
turning his face away in shame.

"You are my cousin," she said quietly.
With a gentle hand she cupped his chin
and coaxed him to face her again.
"I care far more about you  than I do
about who you choose to dally with."

His dark eyes flicked up to look at her,
then down again, and he gave a tiny nod.
"It's good to know that someone does,"
he said, his voice dry and rough.
"That helps a little bit."

Fiorenza fed him broth, wielding the spoon herself
to spare his injured arms, and enough painkiller
to let him rest through the night in peace.
Timoteo let her do as she would with him,
which was more than could be said for some
of her patients, and boded well for his recovery.

Once he fell asleep, she smoothed the blankets over him,
then refreshed the heated bricks so that his body
would not have to work too hard to keep itself warm.
Then Fiorenza stepped away from the bed to stretch herself.

"You have taken good care of your cousin,"
Giordano said, coming up beside her.
"I am proud of your skills ... and your compassion."

Fiorenza gave him a tired smile,
looping her arm around his waist
as she leaned against him in a rare moment.
"I am proud of your watchful eye and your sailor's heart,"
she said to him as they stood together,
taking comfort in each other's presence.
"La famiglia è per sempre."
Family is forever.

* * *


Zingari  is an Italian term for GypsiesAntiziganism is a serious problem that can have dire consequences for traveling folk.  They are often blamed for whatever goes wrong while they are around, whether it has anything to do with them or not.

Some Bible quotes may be interpreted as saying that homosexuality is a sin, and there are a lot of people who feel that way.  However, many Christians disagree and hold that homosexuality is NOT a sin.  Regardless of religious interpretation, harming people is not okay, and stigmatizing sexual orientation definitely harms people.

Leviticus 20:13
  If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

Gossip is discouraged in a healthy church and society, because it can do a lot of damage.  It may contribute to depression and suicide.  It undermines friendship, business, and community.  It poses particular risks to young people and those who have survived a friend's suicide or attempt.  Know how to handle gossip.

Homophobia and homophobic bullying stir up trouble too.  Sometimes this may come from repressed homosexuality.  Such hostility can contribute to anxiety, depression, and suicide among gay people.  Internalized homophobia tends to have similar results.  There are ways to deal with homophobes and overcome your own homophobia.  Take steps to stop bullying.

A ciascuno il suo.
English translation: "To each his own."
-- Italian proverb

Attempted suicide can happen for various reasons, mainly amounting to unbearable suffering with no end in sight.  Know first aid for suicide attempts and how to stop bleeding.  There are instructions for followup care after a suicide attempt for the victim, friends, and family members.  It's better to prevent a suicide attempt than to clean up after one.  If someone is being hounded mercilessly, or their life is otherwise melting down, then it's a good idea to apply compassion and support as you would for suicidal ideation or depression. Not everyone who gets upset will necessarily show clear outward signs, so using miserable circumstances as a cue to help can prevent a tragedy by raising the resource level to where the person can cope with the challenges.

Homosexual behavior in sailors is often an example of situational homosexuality.  Historic mention appears in the British navy and pirate marriages, among many other contexts.  In entertainment, it's the Hello Sailor trope.  Some people reviled it, while others simply accepted it.

Some Bible quotes can be interpreted as meaning that suicide is a sin.  However, many Christians believe that the compassion of God/Jesus is absolute, and that suicide is not a sin.  If nothing else, the concept of suicide as a sin is not helpful  in treating suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, or survivors of a friend's suicide.  It just makes a wretched situation even worse.

La Famiglia è per Sempre
Italian to English Translation: "Family Forever"
-- Italian saying

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8 comments or Leave a comment
ideealisme From: ideealisme Date: December 21st, 2013 01:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like this story - and how it's possible to feel sorry for all the characters involved, including the well-intentioned but unhelpful priest.

You did a fair bit of research!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 21st, 2013 08:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> I like this story <<


>> and how it's possible to feel sorry for all the characters involved, <<

I'm glad that worked for you. None of these characters are villains, but ordinary people sure can fuck up each other's lives without meaning to.

>> including the well-intentioned but unhelpful priest. <<

Yeah, he was trying to help fix a crappy situation, but his method of addressing it made matters a great deal worse instead of better.

>> You did a fair bit of research! <<

The more touchy a topic, the more careful I tend to be about rendering it and providing supportive materials.
helgatwb From: helgatwb Date: February 17th, 2015 11:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't comment on this before, because I don't know how I feel about it. I still don't know how I feel about it, but I wanted to let you know that I had read it.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 18th, 2015 12:12 am (UTC) (Link)


Emotionally complex response. Thanks for letting me know.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 18th, 2015 02:59 am (UTC) (Link)

Familiar, despite the setting.

Parts of my family come down on the "not a sin" side of the argument, while others are vehemently opposed to "allowing" homosexuality.

Watching family dynamics shatter and splinter into factions was HORRIBLE.

The thing that made reading this worthwhile was that the priest was trying to be "wise" rather than cruel, but that entirely unhelpful approach should have wider consequences, I think.

I've made a note for a more appropriate Fishbowl. - Sarah
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 18th, 2015 03:06 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Familiar, despite the setting.

>> Parts of my family come down on the "not a sin" side of the argument, while others are vehemently opposed to "allowing" homosexuality.

Watching family dynamics shatter and splinter into factions was HORRIBLE. <<

That does sound awful. The casualty rate is unacceptable.

>> The thing that made reading this worthwhile was that the priest was trying to be "wise" rather than cruel, <<

I'm glad that worked for you. Don Candido has some issues, trying to maintain authority when he's young for his job and there are other concerns. He wants to take good care of people, and mostly manages, but sometimes the moralizing gets in the way. I think only experience can teach how to balance that kind of stuff.

>> but that entirely unhelpful approach should have wider consequences, I think.

I've made a note for a more appropriate Fishbowl. - Sarah <<

By all means, go ahead. I'm willing to continue this storyline. At minimum, Nocciolaia has lost a fine young man, because he is certainly not going to stay there after this.
torc87 From: torc87 Date: May 27th, 2017 09:42 pm (UTC) (Link)


Ok, is there more to Timoteo's story?

There are at least two stories after that are posted but without links. Are they a continuation?

If not how do I request more? I've seen you mention fishbowl and buying verses but I can't quite seem to understand how to do so, if this old story would be an option for that, or how to do so.

But I really really want to see more of what happens to him. How can I make that happen?

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 28th, 2017 02:12 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: More?

>> Ok, is there more to Timoteo's story? <<

I have not yet written more about him.

>> There are at least two stories after that are posted but without links. Are they a continuation? <<

No, different stories.

>> If not how do I request more? I've seen you mention fishbowl and buying verses but I can't quite seem to understand how to do so, if this old story would be an option for that, or how to do so. <<

Okay, let me break this down:

* You may make requests during any open prompt call. Fishbowls are customarily the first Tuesday of each month. Occasionally there's a bonus fishbowl mid-month. Crowdfunding Creative Jam is the third weekend of the month. These typically have a theme. If you watch my blog, you should see announcements for these.

* Open epics are microfunded, usually for $.50 per line. It's an easy way to buy a few verses if you don't have deep pockets. There are currently four open epics, and I'd rather not have more than three; they're all in Polychrome Heroics at present. But when there's a slot available, anyone can open a new epic with a partial donation.

* Linkback perks are free. People reveal new verses of those by linking to a relevant post such as a current fishbowl or unsold poetry page.

* It's also possible to commission poems outside the prompt calls. That's more of a challenge, busy as I am, but I've done it.

>> But I really really want to see more of what happens to him. How can I make that happen? <<

Catch me on Tuesday June 6 and ask. Like Shaeth, Timoteo is a great match for "Poke ALL the Bigots in the Eye." Also not a bad time to see Fiorenza floundering. She has no personal framework for suicide, the surrounding culture obviously knows fuckall about it, and what little experience she has of alternative sex/gender stuff is her own propensity for wearing breeches and her boyfriend's for wearing skirts. She knows how to sew up slit wrists; she has no idea how to fix the underlying problem, other than "get the kid away from the village that's picking on him" is a good first step.

And thanks for asking!

By the way, if there's a new prompter or donor in the fishbowl, that earns a second freebie poem.
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