I visited Rome once. I was fifteen, just a slip of a girl, or less than a slip,
I was maybe a sip of a watered-down drink, in a tulip skirt and flip flops
and a mouth stained purple from cherries I’d bought in the square.
What was I doing there? I think I was meant to be learning Latin.
In the evenings I lay on the highest hill in Trastevere, pretending
to take drags of hand-rolled cigarettes while secretly blowing smoke
beneath the rim of my aperitif. There was always something buzzing
around my head, a mosquito or hornet or halo of flies, and I didn’t
know what I was waiting for. It wasn’t the Pope. I’d visited the Vatican
and “Cobra Sexy Shop” down the street and found something
very sexy in each—the muscled sibyls unfurling their scrolls
on the chapel ceiling and the arrays of mysterious silicone beads
and especially the two rubbed up against each other, that was really
what did it for me; contradiction is sexy, as everyone knows,
and that’s why I loved Rome—the clown in the baby carriage
wailing outside the basilica and shaking a rattle at passers-by
and the plastic toys sailing high above the Piazza di Santa Pietro,
just missing his saintly head, and the stray cats urinating on sacred ruins
and the shrines spilling their flowers profanely onto the street,
the shrines to Mary the holy virgin and Mary the degraded whore,
who of course are the same Mary. Yes, I visited Rome once, though Rome
has never thought to visit me here in New York, which will soon
be flooded, anyway, and then I’ll have no choice but to live in Rome,
the sexiest city alive or dead, or both, as it so happens.
Hannah Hirsh holds an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU. She has received support from NYU, the Fine Arts Work Center, the Community of Writers, and the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts.