Tag Archives: Italy

The Unfortunate End of Fra Fillipo Lippi


Santa Maria Assunta

In Spoleto two nuns are walking through the piazza

to the Cathedral

across terracotta tiles laid edge on

in a pattern that looks like the ribs of fish.

Their veils starch-crack in the breeze and

rosaries hang by their sides folded into brown robes

and catch the light on every other step.

They wear plain sandals and their toenails are yellowed and fungal

and they shade their eyes from the sun and stop to

look up at the gold mosaic

high up, exalting.

I sit against stone in the loggia and wait for afternoon opening;

for the locks to be drawn back,

for door to open quietly,

for the echo of footstep on tile,

for the interior cool.

I’ve come for the frescoes

for the life of the Virgin Mary

to see colour alive after centuries

and the soft humanity of faces painted into plaster.

He was buried here

in a tomb now empty,

his body stolen in darkness, bundled onto a cart,

horse stamping the tiled ground snorting white breath in chill night air

still heavy with rosemary

and driven down rutted tracks to who knows where

by the family of the girl he ruined,

his limbs pulled socket from ball,

bones splintered with hammers,

reburied somewhere in pieces

or just scattered for the foragers.

The nuns kneel and I take a photograph,

for posterity.



Filed under poems, poetry, writing


Back to Italy for inspiration…three for the price of one!

Part 1

In my head I am you.

Just for a moment.

I see you in the garden under the olive trees

reach your small boned fingers for your coffee, for your book.

I see your fine brown arms that still go in, not out

and your small breasts that need nothing to hold them up.

I see your thin linen nightdress the colour of rain,

your hip bones making its only shape

and your fox-red hair,


Your body is cool.

There is room for air.

Your limbs are not grappled by small hot hands,

child hands sticky with sweat and dirt

but free and slicked with the milk green scent of figs.

I see you look to the window where he is,

standing naked, looking.

Part 2

I know you’re watching me,

here under the olive trees

next to the poisonous oleander whose glaucous leaves

needle my skin and

I’m watching you back.

And thinking how well your family is,

how I’d like your breadth and ease

and your wide outstretched arms always for those children.

I see their sunbleached heads hot in the crook of your neck

and you smiling sure of how much you’re loved.

He looks at me through the window and

I’m here for now, reflected back.

But his eyes will dull and move inwards and

I won’t come here again.

So, I drink my coffee

here in the garden

in this expensive sheath of barely-there linen,

wrapped like a gift.

And I smile and breathe in the morning’s warmth

and know it will stop.

 Part 3

I sit here in the heat

on the edge of the pool

dipping my feet into the Hockney glint.

I’ve bobbed my hair again,

silver now,

not a dark Sassoon cap

and my body is a part of the landscape

brown folded, furrowed like the fields behind me.

I like my comfortable middle

the soft-flaked ripples and the ledge where my hands rest.

I’m no longer responsible for it

for I am old and this is what happens.

I see that one,

sun-salted children squeezed into her in the shade

twisting her hair into plaits

dripping pool water onto her hot legs



I see her long for freedom.

I see it in her dive.

That rush of nothing,

that rush of minute suspension

again and again coming back

to stretch her arms and plunge

a perfect taut arc

wanting those moments to join into a whole.

And the other one,

the translucent one sunning her careful pale body

cocooned in anxiousness,

aware of every glance but wanting none but his.

My body is not desirable,

not rounded nor svelte

and all I crave is cool pool water

lapping my legs.

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Italy. I’m still half there. Wandering around a little aimlessly, sun-flattened, that feeling you get when it’s so hot, when you have to calm everything inside just to breathe. I have the view from our house just inside my eyelids and that tarmac aniseed smell from the fields of wild fennel lodged in my nostrils.

I want to cover my sitting room walls with frescoes, replace the roof with a  Brunelleschi dome and fill my garden with olive trees and naked sculpted alabaster.

Enough fantasising. I wrote a lot of words in Italy, not all coherent. But this is ok.


Is this sleek green eel my boy?

Swimming through diamond-cut pool water to me

hair streaming as sea weed.

The same who swam from me waxed and bloodied

on that plastic hospital bed

with the speed of soap slipped from wet hands

his blue lipped face unfolding in air,

his hands starfished wanting to feel,

his skin pleated in fleshfolds on his thighs and groin.

His body is browned now by strong Tuscan sun.

Long-limbed and hard-muscled

his arms stretched and silvered in water.

He breaks the surface at my feet

and gasps hot aniseed air.


Filed under oddbods, poems, poetry, writing