Scoundrel Time

Letter Written on the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade (on the Cusp of Its Reversal), January 23, 2022, to the Young Woman in Ruth Orkin’s An American Girl in Italy

Dear Jinx Allen,

I love the pseudonym you chose and wore like a rosary around your neck for protection.

But those men on the sidewalk standing around the sewer medallions weren’t under your spell.

They fanned out like a major arcana spread on a table, your daily Tarot:


The Old Fool                                                                                                   The Whistler

The Leaning Man       The Vespa Rider

The Man with a Belt                                                                                       The Smoker.


Were you walking in the shadow of Saint Mary of the Flower’s massive red dome?

In the silver gelatin film, the forget-me-nots, lilies, and tangled vines in the metal basket nailed

to the stone façade needed more light.

Were you on the street in Florence that has my husband’s name?


Long ago, when I was there, I bought leather sandals, too, from a shop with my new name.

They matched my dress, cap-sleeved like yours. Everyone knew I was American.

Are your leather sandals secure enough to let you walk quickly?


I’m writing to let you know I’ve read the minor arcana of your face:


two of black birds flying away                                               two of lidded downcast eyes

three of clutched shawl                       five of knuckles

one of widow’s peak                                                                           queen of trembling chin.


This is how I know    you knew      you weren’t their Beatrice.

Today, because it’s almost the Inferno’s anniversary, my friend asked me for my favorite quote:

our fate / cannot be taken from us.

Yet the cards we’ve been dealt can be reversed and reversed and reversed.


Walk quickly, Jinx, past the men the men watching you and out of the picture’s frame.



Jennifer Martelli (she, her, hers) is the author of The Queen of Queens(Bordighera Press) and My Tarantella (Bordighera Press), awarded an Honorable Mention from the Italian-American Studies Association, selected as a 2019 “Must Read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and named as a finalist for the Housatonic Book Award. She is also the author of the chapbooks In the Year of Ferraro from Nixes Mate Press and After Bird, winner of the Grey Book Press open reading, 2016. Her work has appeared in The Academy of American Poets Poem-a-DayThe Tahoma Literary ReviewThe Sycamore ReviewCream City ReviewVerse Daily, Iron HorseReview (winner of the Photo Finish contest), Poetry, and elsewhere. Jennifer Martelli has twice received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for her poetry. She is co-poetry editor for Mom Egg Review.


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