Sunday, October 30, 2022

Poem: 'Roman Holiday'

Pietà, St Peter's Basilica

Michelangelo's Pietà, St Peter's Basilica (Creative Commons)

This month, I was able to attend two poetry festivals close to home, the Paterson Poetry Festival and the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark.

I listened to some incredible poets, including (two favorites) Rashad Wright in Paterson and Sandra Cisneros in Newark. Thank you to Talena Lachelle Queen and to the Dodge Foundation for coordinating such wonderful, life-affirming events!

In Paterson, two poets were especially kind and signed books for me: Elijah B. Pringle III and Catherine Doty.

I attended Cat's prompted workshop, where she asked us to think of details of a place we remembered vividly and also of a special hiding place. I combined the two prompts into the poem below. 

Roman Holiday 

When I was a teen,

my uncle led me up stone steps of a forbidden tower

to a parapet, with a panoramic view of St. Peter’s Square.

We were trespassing, and I was afraid of heights.


I told him I preferred to see the world with my feet on the ground:

Looking up at the Sistine Chapel ceiling,

Seeing my grandmother feed pigeons in the piazza,

Seeing the cool smooth marble of the Pieta inches from my eyes.


When I was a boy, I had seen Mary’s young face from afar,

behind bullet-proof, ceiling-to-floor plexiglass

on a dimly-lit moving sidewalk,

jostled by tourists at the World’s Fair.


As a teen, free from my Roman chaperones,

I was Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

I was the only person in the world viewing, in a stolen moment,

what Michelangelo had carved from a single stone.


In such dizzying proximity to perfection,

I understood the desire to destroy it.


And yet I have lived my life as an innocent man,

never seeking to avenge my younger self.

I am Zacchaeus, and this page is where I hide.

This piece of paper.

This poem.