Preserving Clara's Modesty

When Bellini, the partisan chief, refused
to hand Mussolini over to the Allies
that April day in 1945,
an act of mercy to spare him
the humiliation of a trial in Italy,
the communist partisans having waylaid
Il Duce’s convoy as it fled to Switzerland,
Benito’s lover, Clara Pettacci,
half his age, pleaded
to be allowed to die with him,
for she alone, she maintained, had offered him
“true love, absolute devotion.”
Not his wife, Rachele, only she.
“My life will mean nothing once he is dead.”

After the firing squad had shot them,
their bodies on display like trophies
in the Piazzale Loreto, in Milan
alongside Clara’s brother Marcello,
who’d been machine-gunned in Lake Como,
near Dongo in Lombardy,
swimming for all he was worth,
trying to make his escape,
the partisans strung Mussolini and Clara up by the heels
at the side of the square.

As they’d lain in the square,
the people had kicked and spat,
urinated on their bodies.

But before they were hanged by the heels,
a priest had pinned Clara’s skirts together:
she hadn’t had time to put on any underwear
when she’d been herded to the firing squad.


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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives. His latest book is a collection of dramatic monologues called American Zeitgeist, published by Apprentice House. A chapbook of poems entitled Jack Tar's Lady Parts is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Press.