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Poem: "The Woodcutter's Son" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "The Woodcutter's Son"
This poem came out of the January 7, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from my partner Doug and [personal profile] chordatesrock. It also fills the "fairy tales & folklore" square in my 12-11-13 card for the [community profile] ladiesbingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman.

"The Woodcutter's Son"

Nari lived in the village with his mother Xaviera,
and not in the forest with his father Silvano
where he wanted to be.

When Nari was very young,
so young he could barely remember it,
they had all lived together under one roof.

Then his parents had quarreled
and Nari's father had gone to live
in a little shack in the forest.

These things were known
to everyone in the village of Faggiola,
and to Fiorenza the wisewoman of Nocciolaia
who sometimes came here to visit
her friend Giacinto the witch-son.

Thus it was no surprise to anyone
when Nari disappeared
and Xaviera came wringing her hands
to the cottage of Agostina and Giacinto
where Fiorenza was staying.

"My son has gone missing," Xaviera said.
"I need you to cast a spell to find him,
for the hunters have looked and seen nothing."

"Have you any idea where he might have gone?"
Agostina asked. "That would help."

"Nari was going into the forest,"
Xaviera said, "but I put a stop to that.
He was making long lines of white pebbles,
so I took them away, and he stopped going."

"I doubt that," Fiorenza said with a snort.
"I think the lad kept right on walking
in the woods but switched to playing with
something other than pebbles --
and whatever changed, that is quite likely
the reason that he's gotten himself lost."

"Nari misses his father," Giacinto said.
"It may be that the boy went exploring
in hopes of finding Silvano."

"Silvano is a good-for-nothing husband
and no use as a father," Xaviera snapped.
"He is not fit to raise a son, and
I don't want Nari anywhere near him."

"That worked when Nari was young enough
to tie to your apron-strings," Agostina said.
"It is not working now, and you have
turned the village upside down as a result."

"Will you cast the spell or not?" Xaviera asked.
"I can pay you in good brown eggs."

"Well, now, that is not so easy,"
Agostina said to her,
folding her gnarled hands in her lap.
"I can always use eggs,
and I can still work magic --
but I am an old woman now,
too frail to go hiking through the woods."

"I can help," Fiorenza said.
"I'm good with location spells,
and I don't mind a walk in the woods."
"I'll come with you," Giacinto offered,
and Fiorenza took his hand.

So Agostina prepared a dowsing rod
of hazel wood rubbed with fragrant oils
of lavender and heliotrope.
She gave the rod to Fiorenza and said,
"This will guide you in the right direction,
but you will need sharp eyes
and good intuition to find Nari."

Off they went into the forest,
with Fiorenza holding the enchanted wand
and Giacinto searching all around.

They wandered through the spring forest,
sometimes on a trail but more often not,
circling around thickets and briars
or crossing over small streams.

At last they game to a little stone cottage
all covered with emerald moss,
around which a fence of bones
protected a beautiful garden.

"I'm quite certain that doesn't belong here,"
Giacinto said, hesitating at the gate
even though the hazel rod pointed right at it.

"That is the home of Befana," said Fiorenza,
"and it can appear wherever she wishes."
She opened the bone gate, went to the cottage,
and knocked on the dark wooden door.

Befana opened the door and gazed at them
with narrow eyes. "I wondered," she said,
"when someone would come looking
for what they had lost."

"Have you seen a little boy in the woods,
with curly black hair and a mole on his chin?"
Fiorenza asked Befana.

"I have indeed," the old fairy said.
She stepped aside to let them see
where Nari lay sleeping on her bed.
Befana's daughters kept watch over him
as they spun spidersilk into thread.

"I found him in the forest nearby,"
Befana explained to her guests.
"He was looking for his father's house,
and had made a trail of wheat
to find his way home; but then
birds ate up the wheat and he got lost."

"We suspected something like that,"
Giacinto said. "Thank you
for looking after him for us."

"Take better care of him,"
Befana warned them,
"or the next time we steal this fine boy,
we will not give him back again."

"Understood," Fiorenza said.
"I will carry your warning to his mother."
Then Giacinto picked up the sleeping child
and they went back to Faggiola.

Xaviera was not much moved
by Befana's warning, preferring
to try harder to keep Nari at home.

Agostina intervened, saying,
"The boy misses his father
and will stop at nothing to see him.
From now on, you will take Nari
to the woodcutter's shack one day in seven,
or else you'll get no more spells from us."

In this way Befana's warning was honored,
Nari was reunited with his mother and father,
and Fiorenza went home with another story to tell.

* * *


The "trail of breadcrumbs" trope comes from the German fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel."  It can refer to any kind of ephemeral marker.

Magical herbs are used for many purposes, such as finding lost things.

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2 comments or Leave a comment
lsellersfic From: lsellersfic Date: January 21st, 2014 03:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
This captures the feel of fairytales very well. As well as evoking Hansel and Gretel, your description of Befana's house made me think of Baba Yaga in some folktales (though, obviously, without the chicken legs!)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 21st, 2014 06:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I wanted Befana's house to have a magical feel, without duplicating any of the classic witch-houses exactly.

I have indeed written about Baba Yaga's house several times. If I ever have a chicken coop, I'd love to put it up on chicken legs.
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