Perhaps you wonder at my speech,
how one so miserably born as I
have come to mouth so well
words I can’t begin to understand.
Let me assure you, though it’s true
I was a barmaid when he came
one night, and into bed the next,
Ser Piero, unbeknownst to him,
gave more than just a bastard child
and endless nights in a big bed
with nothing in my arms but it.
You ask if I hate him. Do you
remember what my boy once said?
:If you’re alone then you belong
entirely to yourself. Well, I
was just nineteen, and by myself.
Good sir, I’m of a lower rank,
as you well know, but blessed
since childhood with a memory
that shapes an image like a brush.
The image I forget, but not the stroke.
You know the story, how his father,
after the child was born, sent us away.
I only had the boy five years
before his father and the first
of the four sluts he took for wives
took him, claiming paternal right.
What could I do? Unbeknownst to them,
I kept close watch on the boy,
observing his movements from afar,
until he’d come of age enough
to understand. Then I told all,
after which he’d come each week
to visit me and ask me more.
He’d question me on everything –
rocks, earth, the way the wind
bent the trees, the mole on my chin.
For him, there were no ranks,
no chains of being: everything
was mutual, important as the next.
How he is the whole world knows,
but I, h is mother, did not see.
Even when he was half a babe
still at my breast he liked
to pry and prod at things. One time
this bird, a sparrow I think,
flew through the bedroom window
of our house in Anchiano, braining
itself against the wall and falling
to the floor, a heap of rumpled wings
and broken bones afloat in blood.
Most babes would have had a fit.
Not him! His eyes aglow, he took
a stick and pushed it this way, that,
examining every part of its body,
questioning me, demanding knowledge
as a thief demands your purse.
Of course this happened many years
ago, and since then many birds
have flown in and out of many homes
and no mishap. But that for him
was just as wondrous. One morning
some years later his face glowed
like the moon on still water
as he recounted how he’d let
the birds out of a cage he’d come
upon while walking in the piazza-
let them out, the poor trapped things,
behind Bernardo’s big stooped back.
His words uplifted him like wings
as he spoke with pride
at having done such a thing.
And when I asked him had he done it
out of pity – no, he said,
he’d simply wanted to observe
the patterns of their flight.
Imagine, breaking the law to see
how birds worked their wings in flight!
What could I do but nod and smile?
But , as I told you, I’ve never been
more than I am – a country girl.
I have no knowledge of these things.
And when I asked him, all I saw
was mischief in his eyes, and in
his words more dark than light.
He said: “Mama, I look at birds
and dream of flight, a way
of knowing how to see, and then
I soar with them. I am their art.”
And this: “Mama, look at the birds.
Beneath the flesh the skeleton.”
You see? What can you do with one
who looks at water and sees birds
in flight, and looks at birds and sees
shapes the world sees but in dreams?
Riddles! Riddles! He spoke in tongues!
How he is the whole world knows,
but I – I am that riddled look
on his dark lady’s Tuscan face. Alas,
my boy’s vision grips me like leg irons.
George Drew has published a collection of poetry, Toads in a Poisoned Tank (Tamarack Editions, 1986), and a bilingual chapbook, So many Bones…Poems of Russia (Rarus Press, 1997). His work has appeared in numerous literary journals.