Part Seven

 

'I never will pass on, signor Pittore,
but here adopt you as my first of suitors,
a friend and councillor in days to come.'

Those words are such to break a father's heart,
I said, immediately, without good thought.
I tried to laugh, but was abashed and said,
Think no more of that, my little lady:
a thoughtless comment or a courtier's phrase.

When for a lengthening moment there was nothing,
a silence only: she hadn't heard. But then
the words in which I saw such piteousness
that tears came quickly and I turned away.

Her voice was gentle but with wondrous depth.

'You have not told me more than I have guessed
these long months past. My mother will not speak
but at your mention stands there motionless.
I am a girl who has not witnessed love
but holds it as a thing much wished on, much
desired, but I can tell my mother in her moods
and silence grieves for you. When vexed at me
she often says it is my father there,
that awkward fractious man who goes against
all counsel and good breeding. What man is that
if of the Doge's circuit or the Church?

And if I play and sing, as tutors say
I do most naturally, it is my mother
softened for a moment, and of one
who had much music in him. In this I knew
in watching you bring coloured life and breath
to what are simple sketches, chalked-through lines
no different from all others but with you
more fresh and vivid. You are that man. I see
among the heads, the gestures, hair done up,
a trace of my own mother, as sure as this
as my own features in each draft you make.'

My little lady, I said in bowing, bending
low to hold her and then looking up,
those days you speak of are another world.

We think, no doubt, when young that all's but passing,
that what is done can be redone or ended,
that what we say with laughter or with tears
is soon forgotten. No: it is not so.

It's true I loved your mother reverently
in every particle of thought and being,
and what I sought unconsciously thereafter
was warm approval in her cast of thought,
that smiling on me in each word and gesture,
however far or close she was. No doubt
continually and here she takes my brush
50. to draw the features which I can't forget.

My little donna Anna, go away.
A father asks that you to remember him
as daily he will think of you. That now
is all. He has another family
to whom he owes what is appropriate
and freely given as God's love to us.

She smiled and took my hand.

'Signor Pittore,
you are my father, always will be. I
will ask my mother that you meet sometime
to talk of things elapsed as old friends do,
kindly, without evasion or regret.'

Not an angel would prevail against
Antonia Schiavoni I would have thought,
but was the same surprised to have the message
to join her company of trusted friends.

Excuse me, Antonia, I said, arriving,
I am too early: there is no one here.

'You are not. Sit down, Caliari.
I am not pleased to hear our daughter Anna
frequents your place of work and talks of meetings
ameliorating what the years have severed
irreparably for me.'

Agreed.

'So,
Is is there more to say?'

No.

'Good day.'

I take my leave of you, Antonia,
and will respect what you have said, but ask
you tell the little lady that her father
still thinks of her and does what's best, and keeps
his council for her constantly, hoping
as always that her simple life be blest
with calm good nature and much joy.

She smiled.
'You have not lost your gift for courtesy,
I see, but that is sense. Good morrow to you,
Caliari. I will say as much
to one as willed and headstrong as yourself.

I left, and there it ended, so I thought,
but at the carnival a few months on
I was accosted by a delicate
and dancing little creature who took my arm
and skipping led me to her place with others.

'We are allowed, you see, if chaperoned,
to dance with strangers, and I will dance
with you, signor Pittore.' How she danced!

'Will I do?' she said, as out of breath
I took her to her place and made my bow.

I smiled. Indeed, most admirably, my lady.

'Lady? My little lady, if you please.
What then?'

I bid all pretty mistresses
a long farewell. I am too old for this.

'But not to talk to me.'

100. My little Anna,
I gave a solemn promise to your mother
I would not blight your life with shadows, never
would drag you backward with the thought-on days
that cannot be recaptured. You are a creature
captivating, blessed with graces, with eyes
that as your mother's can outblaze the day.
My name will only cause you thought and sorrow.
Be happy, think of one who loves you, will
forever think of you and wish you well.

I cannot tell you what a heavy pain
such separation causes, but I am
resolved, my little lady, to undo
the past that dogs your prospects, and may lose
that stainless beauty of a woman's name.

'I have not wholly given up my hopes,
and you may count on such like sallies
that one day we will meet and be as friends.'

My turn to smile. But yet at intervals
for three years afterwards there were
odd meetings, common parties, all against
the instincts of the parents, yet the while
the lady grew as does a statesman whose
hard challenges will strengthen inner steel.

'I see at last,' she said, 'a promised land
beyond this heartache where my parents talk,
confiding as they did, and not through me.'

She spoke so openly, ingenuously,
that what was past took on a lighter step.
I do not think a footpad ruffian, the worst,
but would have let her pass and smiling too
with words of courtesy and awed reflection.
How this small creature came from two such parents
I did not know, nor did Antonia.
For us sufficient that this miracle
was ours, as all the time, in ways unheeded,
God led with promises in His good time.

I have not mentioned my own wife, our workshop,
brother Benedetto, daily round
of preparation, canvases and paints
and drawings and apprentices. All
went well. Continually Elena was
the which poor painters dream of, dutiful
and courteous to workmen and the craft.
She was, it's true, much like her father, not
inclined to hide her views or pass new fashions
by, but with her hands akimbo, contest
some offer, eye a nobleman much up
and down as I had need to speak of, hold
our final meetings elsewhere, which she noted.

150. 'Paulo, be a man more, name your price.
All Venice knows your excellence, the which
cannot be had for love or money.'

Perhaps,
but there are the ways of treating gentlefolk
with manners and a deference to which
they are accustomed and extracts commissions.
And of my earlier life, the commonsense
and bustling Elena kept to herself.
She guessed, I think, but grew a prosperous figure
much like the merchant's wife she dressed to be.

But still I thought on donna Anna, as moon
is to the sun, now near, now far, but always
reflected in its trailing light. How much
I loved and watched that little creature, found
each day some noblemen or churchman stop
and bid good morrow to the donna Anna,
that may her life be tranquil as her looks.

Amen to that as our close, sticky month
of June swelled day by day to summer heat.
With which there came odd rumours: all who could
moved out to countryside or mainland house.

She should have gone, the donna Anna, but
of me she begged to stay, to be in safety
inside a busy workshop toiling on
at rich commission from the Emperor Rudolf.

She should be gone, her mother said. Plans
were now advanced to make her coming out
a thing of note.

'I have a nobleman
whose son will court her. All is ready. The two
will meet.'

Meet, how meet?

'What do you think,
to plight their troths and say love's silly things?
The family is honourable: the two must learn
to dance this quadrille that we call a life.
She must be captivating, he must please.
Enough Caliari, the contract's made and she
will take the first step as I did, as too
my mother did.'

No, I told her.

'No?'

No, I will not have it. Not for one
who is so beautiful and still so young.

'She's not
that little, Caliari: seventeen
if you would notice as all Venice does.
She needs experience, the courtesies
and tempting promises by which we women
move as vessels on our great affairs.
This place is far from pestilence, a summer
court to walk with others, learn her trade.'

I'd rather hang myself than let her go.
This miracle of kindness to be rendered
up as capon on a roasting spit.

'You are too coarse a tradesman, and forget
200. how much you took to my poor tempting flesh.
What did you think I trained her for? To be
a milliner or tradesman's wife? Good God,
she has no name, no money, nothing to
commend her but a body and a little grace.
Enough: I've said the girl will go.'

So you
have told her, have you? that her life must be
henceforth resold, her private parts compared
by men with guffaws and rough, ribald talk?

'Men are men, Caliari, you know that.
And what they do not win they soon make up.
What has been taught her she will turn to good
and learn by doing how this world is built.'

I went out on the instant, consumed in turn
by saddened anger and a father's care.
I sought her out and walked the length of streets
much talking.

You will go?

'Of course I go.
What can I do? My mother tells me Venice
is broody, waiting, could be dangerous. They say
the pestilence is with us, lodged within.
For safety and for finishing I have
to go.'

And that is true, my little lady.
I took her hand. She looked at me and smiled.

'But I shall meet there someone I may charm
sufficient that he plight his troth to me.'

He will, assuredly.

'Continually
he'll think of me and walk distracted through
the days still dizzy with my laughter, write
his thoughts in rhymes and little scribbled notes.'

Perhaps.

He will. I shall demand it, will
not give to him one smile unless he serve
me in a thousand ways.

Oh, count on that.

'Why do you look at me so oddly, why
the riddling comments and this inquisition?'

My lady, my little Anna, look around.
This day you are a child, a trusting child,
an innocent of all the world's deceptions,
of how it is, and what it does. Tomorrow,
who knows? you'll come back changed, maybe
the mistress of some ribboned, famous name,
who'll pay his court about where you must yield.

'How dare you you say so! I will not. I may
so settle as I please, or mother says
but I will choose. Do not insult me, signor
Pittore, I go as to a garden party,
among my equals, to avoid the heat.'

You go to be a mistress, excuse my frankness,
to be a courtesan, perhaps a great one,
as your mother was. I wish you strength
to draw the honey out of poisoned meat.

Tears. I saw no more of her. The sickness
250. gathered all too quickly. Poorer haunts
saw boards go up, whole sections shut, on wharves
and workshops silence, all hammering there quiet,
and folk now fearful, watching, saying prayers.

 

Now rewritten and published as a free ebook by Ocaso Press