Travel notesIssue 04 | April 2009

Beneath Mandorla Skin

by Victoria Forester Courtland

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.

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About the author

Victoria Forester Courtland’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Bathtub Gin, Washington Square, and The Worcester Review. Her piece, Mandorla, is based on the searing hot walled city of Siena, Italy, where she experienced little reprieve from an assault on the senses.

Read our current issue:


Two poems by Anne Babson
Vignette, Townhouse, 9 a.m. by Troy Cunio
Night Becomes Day Over the West by Megan Foley
Yukon River Aurora by D. B. Goman
Two Poems by David Havird
Cretan Love Letter by Emily Linstrom
Holland by Rick Mullin
Fear in Kenya by Kristina Pfleegor
The Lounge Lizard by Ed Shacklee
Two Poems by Sarah J. Sloat
Night Flight by Vicki Stannard
Koinonia Farms by Alina Stefanescu
Thessaloniki, Four a.m. by Anastasia Vassos
Imaginary Oceans by Jason Warren
Two Poems by F. J. Williams

Postcard prose

It’s Salty by Kelly Hill

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Anchorage in the Great Land by Karen Benning
The Value of Small Money by Megan Hallinan
Screensaver by Sandra Larson
Thirty Cents by Tommy McAree
Gokarna by Kate McCahill
Going Places by Rachel Miller-Howard
Susanville CA: Notes From The Road by Susan Volchok