Ilaria Triptych. Runner-up in 2021 Poetry on the Lake Silver Wyvern Competition & nominated for The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2022
Ilaria del Carretto (1379 – 1405) the second wife of Paolo Guinigi, lord of Lucca,Her tomb in the cathedral at Lucca has never held her body.
To endure all that my mother told me must be endured
I take flight. Upwards, upwards, upwards I soar
to the frescoed ceiling above my husband’s bed,
hovering beneath winter, spring, summer and autumn
before swooping and forcing myself between birds
gathered in blossoms of white and saffron,
calling down to my marble self from citrus-sweet air:
Remember, Ilaria, remember the moment everything changed,
and when the moment comes it is suffused with blue,
not the boasting lapis of my husband’s house,
but the watery blue of a morning sky above Liguria
as it clashes with mauve fringes of alpine snowbells;
the black-rimmed blue I saw once in the eyes
of a wolf tracked down and caged by my father;
the strawberry-rippled blue above my mother’s garden
that evening they found me and said the time had come.
The corridors that separate me from men whisper
Hush, take off your shoes, the lady is sleeping
but the child lies on my heart, I cannot sleep.
Close the casements gently, her breathing is soft
but the child lies on my lungs, I cannot breathe.
When she wakes perhaps she will eat
but the child lies on my stomach, I cannot eat.
When I am safely delivered I will eat.
I will eat almond pastries and apples wrapped
in soft cheese dough from my mother’s majolica dish,
the gold-rimmed dish painted with Our Lady
enfolding sweet Jesus in her dress of blue.
I have prayed to Our Lady and Juno Lucina.
I have worn the rank marten pelt against my skin.
I have made myself invisible in the rooms of my husband’s house.
She talks of her dead mother! Pray God it is not the fever
In transept-dim light they dance about my tomb,
some interested only in the dog at my feet.
A dog for a faithful body, but what choice did we have,
Maria before me, Piacentina and Jacopa after?
We were nothing more than land for Lucca to sow and harvest,
our days measured with child, or not with child.
And now attendants scold these scurrying children:
Shush, shush! La bella signora dorme
but they cannot wake me; I do not sleep here.