In Rome with my mother

by Annie Cao


and she feeds me
a meat-filled pastry. From a distance,

we must resemble birds,
our scarves like red markings

on feathered throats. The world will return
to you soon, my mother says

while I cry between bites of
focaccia—larkspur, lemongrass, music in the trees

again. In January, I slept alone in a hotel room
with the bed made and all my clothes on,

my wool coat enclosing me
like decorative paper. When he held her

that winter, did she seem capable of sadness
as lovely as mine? Nausea turned the stairwells

blue-green, and a girl reciting Dickinson
in my English class reminded me of all the time

I had wasted. I kept forgetting my umbrella
and could hardly find my way

through the rain—I mistook the nearby orchestra
concert for sirens. Longing became

a boat that filled, over and over,
with dirty water. But now my mother and I

are in Rome, where the verandas unfold with color:
opal, pigeon’s blood, birdsong

and the conductor gesturing a chorus into silence.
Now my mother combs my hair

and I remember being a child, to whom loneliness
was sweet and justified, like sunlight

softening the newness of spring,
and late one afternoon

when a dog follows us to the end of the bridge
I stand tall and pick up a rock,

but I can’t throw it. These days, all I see
are creatures starved for kindness. He stares

at us, and the river tosses red light
in all directions.


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