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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Margot Fortunato Galt: Poems from The Annunciation

THE ANNUNCIATION | HER LETTER TO A PATRON (from the painter Artemisia Gentileschi) | TRANSLATE

Margot Fortunato Galt
Here Margot is pictured second from the right with other poets, at the Poets House Award Ceremony, November 2000, for THE BORDIGHERA PRIZE READINGS. The Annunciation won Third Place for the Bordighera Poetry Prize 2000.

Margot Fortunato Galt, Italian-American on her father's side, grew up a Yankee in Charleston, South Carolina; her father taught at The Citadel before it was little known outside the state. Since the late 1960s , she has lived in St. Paul/Minneapolis, published art criticism,poetry, and regional essays before five books, one a fine-art chapbook of poems about anonymous family photos, The Country's Way with Rain (Kutenai Press, 1994). Her other books include The Story in History: Writing Your Way into the American Experience (New York: Teachers & Writer Collaborative, 1992) Up to the Plate: The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (Lerner, 1995); Turning the Feather Around: My Life in Art with Ojibway Artist George Morrison (MHS Press, 1998); and Stop This War: Americans Protest the Vietnam Conflict (Lerner, 2000). She teaches in Hamline University's Graduate Liberal Studies Program, and in Minnesota's various writers-in-the-schools programs. Her work has won grants and awards from The Loft, The Jerome Foundation, The Center for Arts Criticism, The Minnesota State Arts Board, the Minnesota Historical Society, and the Minnesota Humanities Commission. Currently she is writing a mother-daughter travel memoir about travels in Germany and Italy and has taken a group of writing students to Florence in May 2001. This is what W.S. DiPiero said of The Annunciation,"These poems are rather elegant struggles to recover and understand the past--a personal past, certainly, but also the past represented in art. Tonally, they're candid and declarative, not muted or indirect. I admire that. The Poems address difficult questions, usually about cultural and familial legacies, but they refuse easy answers."

Here are three sample poems from The Annunciation:

THE ANNUNCIATION

 

In Leonardo's painting, she studies

out of doors, this eminent virgin

in her habitual cloth of red and blue.

 

Before her on a pedestal table

encrusted with a mollusk shell, lies

an open book from which she raises her eyes

 

to the boy dressed in swan's wings, wearing

a cap of curls and carrying a lily wand.

She may have seen him ahead of her

 

in church, his shoulders and torso

masculine and square, his hair

a tangle of innuendo.

 

That he comes to her in the garb

of heaven is only an accident

of myth and history, for she needs

 

nothing announced. The cleft in the palm

of her raised hand anticipates all he means

and she accepts only privisionally,

 

for he is her inspiration, not a winged word

or an unbon child. This child-man,

with fabulous pinions, will cause her

 

to abandon the protected corner,

to crush the low, delicate plants

and dream his weight will never rise.

HER LETTER TO A PATRON, Naples 1649

--from the painter Artemisia Gentileschi

 

SInce you ask the price

of my figures, I will tell you,

Senor: one hundred scudi per figure

or you will not possess

a canvas by Artemisia.

My painted flesh will never crack

like Anguissoula's. She clothed

herself in reticent colors.

My Judith's strong arm

ends in a sword.

 

In each canvas I battle

with light and shade, so

at nineteen, I was taught

by the man my father hired.

His hand guided mine

as we painted callas,

their red heads hissing

with sun. We entered the clash

of ash and flame until

as I commanded surrender,

he broke the brush

from my hand, tore

the clothes from my breast,

and forced me to the ground.

Thumbscrew at my nail,

I was accused of inviting rape,

but I defended only my virtue

lost in a fallen brush.

 

Now I paint Judith.

Unarmed, she walked

into the tent of Holofernes.

With only a candle,

she made him drunk

with ease and certainty.

I have beheaded many men.

 

Each canvas a study

in brocade and blood,

my maid holds the fruit

of the general's head

while I, with sword

and candle, listen

for the approach of fame.

 

You ask for a madonna.

My madonnas are few.

Senor, the soul of a Caesar

lives in this woman.

Mary means nothing to me.

TRANSLATE

 

1.

We played like children

scales on the keyboard

practicing Italian

subjunctives and dreams,

missing the flats

F sharp in G major,

the difficult plurals

da capo, staccato.

You told about failure,

long legs on the pedals,

you spoke in Italian;

long hair down your back.

 

2.

I have lived with husband,

marito, marito

who married again,

sposato, espoused

a woman he knew

prima, prima

he began making a garden

giardino, unsown.

I have painted the walls,

muri, muri

I have painted the walls,

grigio, grey.

 

3.

Last night we talked

without looking down,

your blue eyes sharp,

you played all the notes,

you spoke in our language,

you said it in English,

I learn to be single.

 

4.

Not lost in the courtyard

perdito, perso

chasing the sky

cielo, cielo

tramps in the garden

giardino, giardino

with outstretched hands

mano, mani

No longer the girl

stumbling, running

who could never be good

buona, bene

followed by tramps

with pockets bulging

followed by tramps

with misplayed scales.

 

5.

No! I hear you

in the language itself

pull the egg

from the snake's mouth,

pull words from the son,

frame daughter's slammed door.

I hear you, amica,

understand all the notes,

speak in our key.

 

From THE ANNUNCIATION, Copyright © 2001 by Margot Fortunato Galt. All rights reserved.

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