Beneath Mandorla Skin

I attempt to carry your eyes with me on this journey to Siena, but the weight of my own sight is exhausting. My eyes, once quick with observation, slip down inside my belly and I look around with a hunger for comforts, familiar voices, quiet nights, your arm a belt around my naked waist. Here, I’m falling and I careen around these streets with a ticker tape heart sliced up into thin ribbons that flutter away, one by one, against the ochre walls. My mind is rife with family and all that cannot be undone. My whiteness. Your blackness. The mandorla skin of our child. When I return to you, I am certain I will be someone else.

The unfinished cathedral, raised from bianco e nero marble, is heavy with the admonishing heads of popes leering down from the triforium. They scowl as if they had just caught me with my fingers between my legs. Outside, a lizard basks on a jagged wall in the afternoon sun. Forget the canopy of sinners slain across the swollen womb of the Duomo. Forget the desiccated head of Santa Caterina in San Domenico’s reliquary. Forget Santa Lucia bearing forth her bloody eyes on a platter. The lizard crooks one eye around like the automatic focus on a camera lens and I feel the shutter of my heart. Release.

I imagine carrying our unborn Serafina around on my hip. Her small brown feet flutter against my thigh when we pass the gelaterias. Already she knows a certain desire, but Siena is not a place for strangieri to raise a daughter. There is discord everywhere — church bells clanging to the ends of streets that wind like a chambered nautilus, shirtless men hammering and chiseling cobblestones, contradas parading in anticipation of Il Palio, men and women arguing behind every window, shutters flung open.

Siena was built in expectation of battles, with blackened blood and dormant disease in the soil beyond these walls. Even with a map, I cannot glide effortlessly through these labyrinthine streets. The flat stones in La Lizza reflect a bruised light. Clouds sag across the narrow snatches of sky and thunder ushers in rain. It kicks up dust, making air heavy in the lungs like smoldering sage, moiling everything dark and rough. I do not feel safe in the absence of smooth surfaces.

Siena is shaped like a human heart. From within its walls it is rare to see a sunset, though just before dusk the brick brightens to a sanguine hue. At night, I trail my fingers along the barnacled cliffs between arched doorways and I know that I would not be afraid if I had someone else to protect. I don’t belong here, Love, but I no longer know where to bring myself home.