or the pot of basil

a story from Boccaccio

related by Keats
retold by me, David Cain, in a modern guise


Isabella and Lorenzo fell in love
Which is to say, they became obsessed
In every way with each the other
Seeking out, delighting, missing
Yearning, sometimes jealously
Craving, lusting, needing, bleeding
With love as they licked and caressed
When privacy permitted the freedom
But yet
We’re too soon introduced to her brothers
Greedy bastards both of them
And they had plans to pimp their sister
To some old tycoon with huge
Tracts of land, in a very real
And legally binding sense
But Isabella, preoccupied with
Lorenzo had no eyes for no other
And ignored her churlish siblings
Pleas to please attend to business
But she had no business but pleasure
So they lured away Lorenzo
On business, for if he wanted
Isabella, the family business
Is his as well, a palmer
What business did he know?
Follow to learn, they ask and implore
And even Isabella goes along
With the scheme, to convince
Her love to join the family
And ride
They were barely out of Isabella’s
Longing sight when the two greedy
Brothers turned and slayed Lorenzo
Cut him down and dumped the body
Put it out of sight and rode on
To finish the business and raise
A toast with the rise of the wrist
While Isabella went on waiting
And waiting and waiting and waiting
Until her brothers came home
Without Lorenzo, assuming she
Would acquiesce to their plan
Of marrying her to money
Now that Lorenzo had so obviously
Run away
Greedy brothers were able to plan
With the best of the best, Sir
And covered every track, every clue
Every alibi and lead, the perfect
Crime, exceeding Leopold and Loeb
In their ropish attempt to Raskolnikov
Thinking things through didn’t allow
Them to plan for everything
Isabella slept and dreamt the truth
Or else his ghost did come and told
Her where to find his decomposing
Remains; she went, Isabella found
All that remained of the man she loved
She took his head, put it in a pot
Planted basil in the earth
Fertilized by his face and brain
Scented in deep basil
Lost her mind, Isabella stopped
Did nothing but talk to the herb
Until her scheming brothers
Stymied in the manipulations
Wracked in curiosity
Stole the basil pot away
Broke the pot, Lorenzo’s face
Half rotted and mocking
Chased his murderers away
Leaving Isabella mad and crying
Keats says
Oh, ‘tis cruelty, to take
My basil pot away
from me


Isabella, fair daughter of an ambitious family
Coveted by many who judged with their eyes
Feeble and timid within
Easily led and commanded whenever
Her services, despite her lack of skills,
Might serve her family’s ambitions
Until along came Lorenzo, fair youth
Of less strength than enthusiasm
Of less use than loving
Loving, his loving, her loving
Loving seemed all they could need
Isabella loving Lorenzo
Isabella loved by Lorenzo
Lorenzo loving Isabella
Lorenzo loved by Isabella
Until they sat staring, eye to eye
Longed to sit staring, eye to eye
Wanting nothing more
Attending to nothing else
Although Isabella had little to give
Her ambitious brothers to further
Their avarice goals, they knew
The best she had to give was all
Sold into matrimonial slavery
Wedded to a shallow and wealthy
Old man, auctioned perhaps
On the sly among nobles
In need of a feminine trophy
Spurred by her wasted uselessness
Spent staring eye to eye
They sounded her out, greedy brothers
Asking her consent to be pimped
To some worthy cretin
And give up her worthless affection
For the soft, poor, young palmer
Shrewd plotters, yet failed to foresee
Her objections, her refusal
Her laughing in their faces
Blood boiled in anger as plotting
Revenge became the next step
In achieving their money grub goals
Evil in purest ways, they undertook
Embracing Lorenzo as one of their own
Taking them under their vulture wing
Planned a voyage hence to Capital City
To wheel and deal a fortune for him
Lead Lorenzo to the wealth
That would make him worthy
Of our fair sister, Isabella
Craving counsel, Lorenzo asked
Isabella, if he should, thus invited
Join her loving brothers yet
Leave her loving presence
Go, she replied, overjoyed
Discovering the bond suddenly
Sprung between lover and brothers
She, Isabella, watched her men
Disappear beyond the bend
Waving and crying and laughing
In a symphony of self abused joy
Hurry back, she sighed
Months passed without a word
From Lorenzo or her brothers
Until, as she did her daily vigil
Sitting on her balcony
Silently staring into the distance empty
Her brothers turned the corner
Told tales of grand exploits
Fortunes won, lost, again regained
The lust for gold in Lorenzo’s eye
Before he chose a courtesan and fled
Forever from their sight
Isabella, never solid in ordinary struggles
Wailed in endless agony
Betrayed so cruelly by this youth
She abandoned every sense of caring
Consented to go along with anything
Her brothers could contrive
They wrung their hands greedily
Eager to make the most of her weakness
Night came and Isabella
Cried herself to sleep
A troubled, restless surrender
To the darkness
When he, Lorenzo, appeared
Before her in a translucent glow
My Isabella, my love, my soul
He said in earthly tones she knew
As his, I have not run away
With money or lust or ever from you
Except as you bid me go
Your brothers killed me just over there
A few hours after we left
The proof of what I say is found
Beneath the ground by yonder grove
Beside a basil garden
Isabella fell out of bed
Ran fast to find the truth
Discover for herself Lorenzo’s fate
His head she recovered
Planted him with basil in a pot
Surrendered her mind to another
Betrayal, of murderous brothers
Infected with amoral greed
Spoke only with the silent head
Contained within the basil pot
Frustrated by her insanity
Confused by her basil obsession
The brothers driven by crime beyond morality
Stole her basil pot away
Smashed the pottery and found
A confession, mocking
In his silent staring eyes
Leaving in the haste of retribution
Fair mad Isabella wailing
Of their cruelty


We have a sister, my brother and I
They named Isabella, sister fair
For whom we hatched a scheme
To save her from a life of need
To employ her beauty to secure our futures
Attaching her to some deep pocketed mate
Capable of supporting our growing enterprise
Victory achieved by an exchange of vows
Nothing could have brought us more for less
The wheel turned, our plans proceeded
Then Lorenzo came along, stumbled
Like a bull into our china shop
Destroyed our progressing tradition
Family first, after money
By stealing the affection of a feeble
brained girl, taking with glances
The woman we had meant to sell
Cursed viper, sneaking into our camp
Venomous presence, poisoning her will
To obey her fraternal orders, to throw
Herself away on a mere student
When a master had offered to pay
Now my brother and I are notorious
For concocting plans to get our way
So the obstacle posed by our Lorenzo
Seemed nothing to warrant concern
We drew him out of town and shivved
The Oedipus in the back, through the heart
One second an issue, the next second gone
Left his mortal remains behind
Rode into town and lived our best
Anticipating our family’s good fortune
Isabella, our sister, as we expected
Took Lorenzo’s disappearance hard
She cried and she groaned, carried on
Into the night, but didn’t retire
Until she consented to marry
Whomever we thought was best
No longer trusting her own mind
The next day we expected her
Isabella to be better, recovered
From the shock of being jilted
Maybe a little blue, but excited
Imagining the rich wife she’d soon be
But instead Isabella, our sister
Sat alone on her balcony
From dawn to midnight, speaking of love
While she stared at a plant
Grown in a pot, some herb
Basil, I’m told
That seemed to listen, I suppose
To her rantings, soothing her aromatically
I thought it might help Isabella by taking
Her basil pot away
And she cried
The pot broke
His face glared
In accusation
And so I came here to confess
It was my brother’s fault


About David Cain

David Cain, literary author, bon vivant, rogue romantic poet - author of Witch, Song of Songs, Journals of Lord Malinov, Erotic Romances and others ...
This entry was posted in fiction, literature, personal, poetry, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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