I lean into the wind at Santa Chiara,
a rim of Tuscan stone against my thighs.
I want to fly with the swallows
weaving beyond the wall. Their arc
follows the line of the pale pink church
rising stark and unadorned beside me,
and the curve of their wings, dark as the robes
of monks who twine the stacked basilicas
of San Francesco at this hill town's base.
The swooping birds encircle cypress trees
which rise from the hillside. My gaze skips
across their line, and I can see
all the way to Siena, where Mia waits,
her dusky hair flowing like black coffee.
Birds and other beasts looped through her dreams.
One night a donkey told her that he loved
his mother. Warm tears woke her,
for she had not answered. A tiger's growl
once said his father loved him. Who loved Mia?
Who blocked her parents' shouts with other cries?
She prayed that like her visitors in the night
she might swim or fly or prowl away.
Her crayons drew the swallows sailing overhead.
Teacher said Mia was the patron saint of animals.
A rain-rutted road stretched over a slope
to the hunting lodge, Spannocchia.
The route's gravel, splinters of hand-hewn
stones, tripped me when I came at dawn
to look into Etruscan ruins buried there.
Our hands uncovered centuries
one rock at a time, dirt filled our torn nails.
A knotted sprig of wild fennel banded
Mia's hair, lone shoot in a dark field,
while she leaned to collect kindling
in her spiral toward the kitchen. I brushed clean
a tooled ladle as she spooned minestrone
into white bowls by the fire.
The wild boar in the fifteenth-century etching
raises its tusks to challenge hunters;
a velvet cord, the pale pink of Santa Chiara,
suspends the struggle above the mantle.
Noon light washes a glow over the image
of this Italian refuge that called
Mia from her father's sullen pouts,
from her mother's bruising palms. Here she was not
the trapped prey, here she could be the seeker.
In the veil of night I took the conflict down,
and pulled the fraying cord from its frame
to circle my head in a bridal wreath. I dreamed
of marriage to Assisi's Francis. Mia
strokes the hands of those she feeds each day.
Saint Clare is light, in my imagination, light:
I cannot be the saintly sister she was,
pale and blonde in sharp contrast
to the sackcloth dress she wore to copy
the brown robe of Francis. Brother sun,
sister moon, their followers called them.
I come to join the cloister of Santa Chiara,
to learn a devotion I have never felt.
I cannot charm the animals. I only pretend
to fly with swallows black as the veil
now covering my cropped hair.
Underground, Clare's remains have gone dark.
I kneel, and wonder how to pray.
(c)Margaret J. Tinsley
This poem appeared in New Virginia Review, v.10, n. 2