top of page

The language of leaves

by denise o'hagan

Isabella and the pot of basil: A modern retelling

(after Boccaccio’s novella in the Decameron, IV, 5)

I slide my arms around the swollen terracotta pot and sink my forehead into its profusion of fragrant leaves, watering them with my tears as I do every morning. My grief burrows the soil until I feel it softening the rims of your eye sockets, caressing your jaws and teeth, swilling around your crushed skull as I curse my brothers for the thousandth time. You can but speak the tender, febrile language of leaves now; I respond underside through a pale lacework of veins – but when I pluck out a sprig of basil at lunch-time, my Lorenzo, I shall taste you forever.

Note: Inspired by Boccaccio’s novella about Lisabetta of Messina who buries her murdered lover’s head in a pot of basil. The Decameron (1349–1353), in which it appears, is framed as a collection of stories told by ten young people while taking refuge in a villa outside Florence, ravaged by the Black Death.


Denise O’Hagan is an editor and poet, born in Rome and based in Sydney. Recipient of the Dalkey Poetry Prize, her work is published internationally and has been shortlisted in the ACU Poetry Prize, the Robert Graves Poetry Prize and the Plough Writing Prize. Her poetry collections include The Beating Heart (Ginninderra Press 2020), shortlisted for Society of Women Writers NSW Book Awards 2022, and Anamnesis (Recent Work Press 2022).


Image by Bree Anne
bottom of page