Rome seems oppressively sad… the abundance of fragments of the past (on which a tiny present nourishes itself) that have been fetched out of the ground and laboriously maintained…are basically nothing more than accidental vestiges of another age and a life that is not our own and is not meant to be.
– from Letters to a Young Poet (Rainer Maria Rilke)
But look, how the ageless city has aged,
plaster cracking on sunken cheeks.
Your foundation does not blend
with your complexion, my darling,
the smile that won’t quite cover broken teeth
unable to hide the finger nails that dropped off
your delicate digits of Corinthian and Doric.
And if all roads still lead to you, my dear
is this the welcome that you will give them?
Time, the great undresser, long ago
got wise to your amphitheatrics
and confiscated your frescoed chic –
left with residual mosaic rashes, like old tattoos
you tend to pull shirtsleeves over.
I fear surgery cannot save your ribcage gaps
the space where your Senate was meant to beat
now tell me, please, how is it
that the bones of this place
this city of light we built together, darling
the bones of this place, look, tell me please
quick, are they showing beneath the silk
the veins under each other’s skin, this paper-feel
lethargy it seeps into limbs that touch and twine
under winding, all too transparent sheets