All of the streets and courtyards
are empty. The mayor asks citizens
to report those who break quarantine.
A boy wanders outside the Colosseum
while his mother sleeps off last night’s
heavy pour of table wine.
On the news, Italians serenade each
other on balconies, but they do not sing
in Rome because the epidemic has not yet taken
hold. There is little to celebrate when death
is coming for parents and grandparents,
a frail neighbor who smiles out her window.
A woman says it is ironic that a city
prided for its history should so mourn
its future, their only weapon another
month or two of hunkering down, and
based on neighbors to the north it will
not be enough.
She is 53 and unsure if that means she
is more or less likely to die. She says
she wishes she had visited the National Gallery
before this all started, that she wanted
to see Giacoma Balla’s A Wave of Light
one more time.
The woman in the painting looks exactly
as I remember my mother who died when
I was a girl. After seeing it for that one
and only time, I went to the restroom
and cried in a stall for an hour.
A man, a photographer, says he has only left
his house for groceries and to put out
the trash. I thought about taking my camera
on my walks to the store but there’s something
spiritual about the emptiness of Rome
I do not want to upset—a serenity
that you cannot capture in a photo.
The boy has returned from his walk, his
mother will soon wake and make him toast
with a thin layer of strawberry jam.
He is getting too old to be waited on,
he knows as does his mother, but for now,
they will each play their respective roles.
Outside the city limits, a nurse returns
with amended protocols. There will not be
enough room to treat the coming wave so
most people will need to be treated at home,
only those deemed serious or young enough
be admitted to the hospitals.
A doctor asks about the ventilators
that were sent north. When will they be
returned? No one knows. When he calls
the person he coordinated with, no one
answers. He leaves a message and returns
to his empty desk, everything filed
and organized in anticipation.
For those who believe, this is the time
for prayer. For those who do not, this
is the time for waiting.
This poem appeared on Rattle, April 2020.