the glass contessa

Stained glass Contessa by Moretti Casselli, Perugia

Stained glass Regina Margherita by Moretti Casselli, Perugia

Continuing my practice started in October with poems of gratitude and awe for the Italian craftswomen we visited – remember ‘Only From the Heart’? – I share here the incredible work of the Moretti Caselli family, known around the world for their signature stained glass painting technique. I recently sent this poem to Maddalena and her mother Anna, who plan to post it on their website.

     for Anna and Maddalena Forenza
Museo Moretti Caselli, Perugia, Italy

Rounding the alley right on time
we enter another age, worn stone
rising the height of walls
to fend off the unwelcome; yet

here we are pushing a small dot
on a brass plaque in the drear of rain
musty stone layered above and beneath
our sodden feet, no soul in sight

but us bedraggled pilgrims
seeking a sign, perhaps
to show us toward light,
a way familiar or welcome.

As quiet as the moments spent
breath held in question, answer comes
through narrow wooden door cracked upon
a serious face beneath black curls;

her hand waves us in, our universe
now at peace to be received,
though speech a wall as hard as those
of this 15th century fortress; we

gesture, smile, incline the head
absorb the luster of a name
unknown to us, a pioneer
of monumental heights

his stained glass legacy etched
painted, mounted, viewed in church
and museum both here and abroad,
the Caselli dynasty passed

father to daughter to niece to daughter;
fifth-generation artisan of glass and pen
Maddalena aglow with desire
to express in words the import

of this hidden art that shines
in light of day. Wordless, we admire
samples, tools, cast hands and feet,
practice pieces faded now

that proclaim the eye and hand
of master art, intimate in each detail.
And then she unveils the
Contessa*,
so life-like we extend our hands

as if to grasp the one held out
yet flat as the surface that shed its light
creating this illusion of depth
emanating from centuries-old glass

in vivid color, style that captures
fold and shine of shimmered silk,
the regal glow of flawless skin
shining through this dyeing art

standing still, defenseless, yet
protected by the age-old walls
that welcome us behind a façade
of cold and forbidding stone.

 swb

 * she represents Regina Margherita de Savoia of the late 19th century; when Maddalena was describing her to u,, I heard ‘contessa’ rather than queen and the name stuck.


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