Venice is flooding. Not just aqua alta but waves in the center of San Marco. Gondolas sit like beached whales in the thin alleys. The cathedral has flooded six times in twelve centuries—three times in two years. Italy is the first country to require climate change to be taught in schools. The pigeons are gone, the “eat & flee tourists” walk, waist-deep in six feet of water. The Merchants can’t afford to live here, travel from Mestre to pack their masks and marionettes. One dies pumping water from his shop.
I spent two weeks in Venice at the end of the last century. While the rest of the world worried about Y2K, the Italians drank wine and sold crackled wooden cherubs to tourists. I searched for Carpaccio’s Saint George slaying the dragon, in a scoula with a thick velvet curtain that matched the color of the dragon’s blood. When I left the city, I was pregnant. It only took four weeks for the nausea to begin. The nurses ran IV fluids three times in three months. It felt as if I were drowning. I lost thirty-five pounds. The doctors promised me the baby would be healthy. They were wrong. At nineteen, she still babbles more than she speaks, takes six medications that can’t stop her seizures. The doctors have stopped apologizing. They leave me to research myself. She is one hundred sixty times more likely to drown, her life expectancy is thirty-six.
Virginia Woolf left a letter to her husband before she filled her pockets with stones and walked in to the river. “What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you… If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness.”
The last time I walked that city, young boys handed out pamphlets shouting “Vivaldi Concert Tonight.” Their jackets were the blue of Giotto’s sky. The first thing I bought for my daughter’s nursery was a personified crescent moon facing the sun. It hung above her door for ten years—gold and silver, fighting for her attention. It took time to realize why she hated its eyes and mouth, its wide nose. It didn’t resemble the drawing from her favorite book. The one she has said good night to six thousand times. It didn’t match her one vision of the moon.
Jennifer Franklin is the author of No Small Gift (Four Way Books, 2018). Recent and forthcoming publications include American Poetry Review, Blackbird, Gettysburg Review, Guernica, The Nation, Paris Review and Prairie Schooner. She teaches at the Hudson Valley Writers Center, where serves as Program Director.
Photo by Isabel Sierra Gomez de Leon.