In Italy the heatwave continues. It's made it hard to find the energy to write, so that anything I've produced in the past month has emerged very slowly, and I'd like to say thoughtfully. But mainly just slowly. This photo shows part of a fresco in the church of Sant'Agostino near where I live in Montalcino, whose restoration has also been progressing very slowly and in fits and starts, but is now once more underway. Over several years I've been fascinated by the process, which has a wonderful, almost devotional quality. These beautiful frescoes (painted during the 14th and 15th Centuries, possibly by Bartolo di Fredi of the Sienese school) show scenes from the life of St Anthony. But what I love the most are the small peripheral depictions of everyday rural life at the time of the painting. In this one, three people (contadini?) are on their way to market, the woman carrying eggs, and on her head two unfortunate ducks! I wrote the poem below in 2014, when the fresco was just starting to reveal its rich colours. It's lovely to see the work coming close to fruition this year.
Who is that woman with the two ducks strapped to the top of her hat? A basket of eggs, such a timid frown. I’ve knelt close on folded sheets for a fortnight, mending holes in her gown with a fine white filler, edged
my narrow brush across her cheek. As if she’s a lover or child, she needs my kiss, but salt obscures her lip, mottles the words she tries to mouth in efflorescence. Here in the faintest slip of lampblack, her cottage
hides among pines. All day I scrape blown mortar, soothe hail-stone scores with a spatula. Hills at her shoulder wobble, terre verte, verdegris. Hands reach and fail, lost in a fall of plaster, caput mortuum, browned purple
at her feet. This is the lost treasure – woman, duck hat, dancing dog – if only I can give them back their shadowy journey close to the bare earth, terra cotta, umber, far from tin-leaf haloes, the well-worn story told in cinnabar, shell gold, peach-stone charcoal.
You can find this poem and others set in England and Italy in 'Other Blackbirds' available from Cinnamon Press.