by Susan Wheeler, after Quentin Massys, c. 1514
He counts it out. By now from abroad there are shillings and real—
Bohemian silver fills the new coins—but his haul is gold, écu au soleil,
excelente, mostly: wafers thin and impressed with their marks, milled
new world’s gold the Spanish pluck or West African ore Portugal’s
slaves sling. The gold wafers gleam in their spill by the scale.
Calm before gale: what bought a sack a century before almost
buys a sack now; the Price Revolution’s to come. A third of a mason’s—
a master one’s—day’s wage funds the night’s wine, Rhine, for his crew
after a big job wraps up. As for dried herring, his day’s wage would buy
fifteen mille for a big do; his workers, just nine—18 stroo. Calm in his
commerce is the businessman, and his wife, their disheveled shelves:
she turns a page; her hands are in God but her gaze is on ange-nobles
and pearls, weights and gold rings—one florin in pan, one in his hand.
What sync they are in: calm their regard, luxe, volupté leur mien.
Fur trimmings on jackets, gemstones on fingers—while the
debtor in the mirror has spent what he has on the red hat he’s in.
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