Directions to the Six Virgins

Karen G. Berry


Pause while crossing the Ponte del Diavolo.
Look into the ravine of stone walls set by Caesar’s orders.
A hundred feet below, the Natizone
crawls slow and sleepy through Cividale
and black catfish nibble, suspended
above a riverbed of rolled, glowing stones.
No one remembers why the Devil ran
across this bridge, only that he did,
leaving behind his name. Cross it,
and keep the river to your left.

There’s water music, a spillway.
On your right, Caesar’s walls riot
with jasmine vines thick as your thumb,
perfuming the path to the tempietto.
Look for a courtyard, a simple arched doorway.
This was a home before the Longbeards
conquered this land of wine and walls.
They slipped in at the top of the boot,
pagans who came to Christ and built
a tiny temple to house their northern worship.
Pilfered Roman columns, choir stalls of rustic,
wooden charm, faded frescoes,
a dizzying archivolt of twisting grapevines.

To meet them, you must raise your eyes.
Six white virgins. They stand, silent and haloed,
as saints, sisters, servants? Who are they?
The cool English commentary in your ear
will speak of six suave and mysterious virgins,
bearing the gift of their lives to Christ.
This haunting and beautiful conjecture
echoes as you study the four who face forward
in gowns and coronets of considerable finery,
while two, more modestly draped, turn in,
gently beckoning toward an archway—
a path to Paradise, a view toward God.

Consider these silent strangers
with their gifts of cross and crown.
Return the stare of their round eyes.
Listen to their stone lips, open just enough
to breathe or whisper or pray.
They were here long before you.
They will remain long after. When you depart,
remember their twelve tiny slippers
balanced on a band of intricate stucco,
standing still for seven centuries.

Karen G. Berry

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.