Part Five

 

'That was all, my Caliari, simply
name. I asked for that and you refused.
With all my name and wealthy patrons, one
beset by titled gentlemen, must beg

to court the daylight in some finer cloth.

The hours when you were glad enough to linger
in a bed thick-warmed by many others,
had been dispensed with: out we throw
a name that bears no muster in the Guild
of artisans and modest working stock.'

I offered wet-nurse, clothes and crib, and never
once suggested that dark foundling's grate
wherein so many issues are cut off.
I would support it, with a name in time

for mother's schooling or a workshop place.

'But not God's blessing, true — my Caliari?
You cast me off, an outworn shoe, not one
you had now further use of, being minded
to find another of more virgin patent
to grow about you as you trod your ways,
a bustling craftsman with his ledgers filled.

And by degrees the balance in us shifted:
you rose in standing as my prospects fell.
All Venice knew my suitors
gave you subjects,
prominence and suitable connections,
wherein your industry found rich reward,
until a body that was paid by favours
became a mockery of altar
pieces.

How many looking at those virtuous faces
will see a woman there who scorned such shifts?
Far more than Titian with his courtesans,
my sensual body had in
subtle grace
reformed the common and the awkward. How?
You did not say but painted clothes in which
a luminous enchantment draws a veil
that women dream of and true poets make.

Yes, I read as you do not. I know
the sonnet from a mish of half-baked thoughts,
can tell that Aretino's bitter words
still bite on substance that the learned heed,
much though the Church denies it — idiocies
are your way to a world that's not.

Listen,
n
othing's impregnable, but passes, Venice
even if she does not change. Those
rich
and shifting constellations, those spreads of jewels
in oils and essences, bright invocations
of belief — they flutter out and burn
till what
we see are shadows, sickenings
of souls in torment, Tintoretto's shapes
50. that flare in thought as marsh gas on the water.
But all the same, through courtesies and smiles,
our daughter's loss was certain as the grave.

Because you chose but stupidly, and are
rewarded
with a family of little
men, nonentities to whom you pass
your gifts as workshop practice. Think a moment:
how can
Carletto have that brooding mind
to trace beyond appearances and draw
an outline to a larger world, that one
which God in majesty bequeaths to man
if he have peace and true humility?'

If that is so I have been punished, indeed
I have, and am, and daily count the cost.
I think of our poor Anna, her who bore
the golden testimony of our long nights
.

Why did I throw that jewel away? Because
when new arrived I walked past palaces
and great canals where darknesses reflect
exuberance that puts the moon to shame.
I'd stop and gaze upon the festivals
of folk I did not know, that time would cure:
well furnished gentlemen with name and title
that spoke of ancient lineages, estates
that stretched beyond the simple countryside
of Mestre and Veneto marshes, lowland
settlements on heavy clays with willows
and poplars leaning to the morning light,
that half dissolved in silvered dispensations:
the which were nothing to the fields of fruiting,
the hunting lodges, long traditions.

Sometimes
I'd hear the voices from the balconies
call down and see the fleets of gondoliers,
rich-caparisoned, their men in livery
and women blazing in their satin-work
of jewelled bodices and whitened bodies,
all moving as great swans adrift, conveyed
silent and imperturbably along
the stream of company that makes our Venice.

That world I reached for, and have paid for. Now
its opulence seems commonplace, poor trade
for our good daughter, in whose smile, so frank
to me and welcoming was fragrant day,
her tutelage to grow in quiet grace
which time would only strengthen and enhance
with golden waiting at some ducal court,
though yet she was a delicate and ever
loving creature, sweet-natured, quick to pity
as to laughter, walking not as courtly
women stride, but in that subtle harmony
100. which lifts the shoulder up, and in the instep's
simple arching places each part so.

I was astonished, certainly, but more
so fearful of her standing and her name.
I knew too well what Venice breeds, what tempting
wagers would be laid that she would fall,
the one most perfect having most to lose,
undo the innocence and mother's heart.

'Whose daughter do we talk of? I it was
who gave her schooling, taught her music, ensured
a
dozen gentlemen would pay their court,
substantial men with family and breeding,
good connections. Until, that is, this tradesman's
son dissuaded her from pressing on.'

Perhaps I said that on my mission year
the one I went to Rome with Gerolama
Grimani and notables of Venice,
and was distracted, knowing how you'd drill
the child and likely would despatch her promptly
before objections found their time to speak.


Wonders in Rome and all the while in touring
the sights of Raphael, Michelangelo,
and antique statuary retrieved from sites
for palaces, another image haunted me,
alike in beauty but of closer blood.

Signor Veronese, come and talk
to us of your commissions, how you'd paint
this Rome of palaces and great St. Peter's
colonnades of marble, flights of stairs,
great personages on business with the Holy
Father, the first of capitals in this new world.

What did I say? I cannot remember: things
polite and deferential. Come, come, said one:
don't play the courtier here; you're now with friends.
Speak plainly to us. Then in truth I miss
the bustle and the personage of others
that pack our thoroughfares and mooring steps,
the furriers from Moscovy, Smyrna
merchants, Asiatics with their robes,
the blackamores, who bear the carriage, walk
with rods of ivory and heavy gold.
These I miss for all that Rome confounds
us greatly with its march of long events.

Two thousand years of history wait, I know,
in halls of jasper porphyries and white,
where every room is marble. I am a plain man
only, lacking taste for such.

I lied.
Before me stretched a realm more fabulous
than Titian's ever was or could be now.
What was one poor daughter to those yards
150. of canvases ablaze in papal chambers?
Pride, pride as ever in my gifts,
the praise of courtiers and of worthy men:
these took me from my path; I scorned the most
that God in His great mercy gave to me.

'That I've always known, my friend, and as
for peace, and my forgiving, that will come
with God's own ordinances. Here I take
my leave: you'll hear no further from me now,
nor hear reproaches at my end. I have
a last request: you meet one other so
.
Rest here a moment and she'll come to you.'

 

Now rewritten and published as a free ebook by Ocaso Press