Poetry by Amy Young
I did not hate men. Men were my teachers,
I needed them to transform. I went to Rome
a Suzanna, shrinking and fearful, the vecchioni
all about my ears, my fingers. My father’s words,
the words of priests and maestri, they were in
the paint, they bellowed from Roman walls and
ceilings. Torrents of color, the vivid lives of vivid
men all around me, their terribilità all I knew,
I cowered before them, their courage and thunder.
Tassi, the teacher, the master,
my invisible complement, he educated me in
the limitations of innocence. I did not protest
when his paint-laden thumb brushed
a wisp of hair behind my ear. I did not speak
when he closed the door, drew the curtains,
darkened the room with his malice and want.
I learned the dangerous weight of allure and alarm,
he showed me the truth of a tenebrous soul.
At the trial, when thumb-screws tested
my truth, when he and his words sat haughty and
righteous, he roused in me a strength
that Caravaggio did not need. When my words
were not enough, when my hands were laid bare,
when the testimony of dottore and drunkards
colored me in lurid shades, I imagined myself
a roaring maiden, a valiant ancella, la bella ferocia.
No, my defiance was not born in an accadamia.
I became Judith when Roman silks were
painted with the blood of Artemisia.