Helen Mitsios

Athens By Day; Our Rome: Helen Mitsios


In Plaka the travertine streets are worn
slippery and pockmarked under our dusty sandals.
We make unpretty loops around broken marbles
and columns that once stood up for something.
The ruins are indifferent to us. Even the sun doesn’t
care for tourists or philosophers. At the Acropolis
Museum the Caryatides stand tall remembering
their former importance. Their stone hair is almost
intact and woven like a small miracle of gold
wildflowers. A coin drops from the unseen hand
of someone I’ll never know. I could be happy
if we lived in Paris. Every day I’d sit on a bench
in Place des Vosges and sometimes I’d pretend
to be young. Thoughts and time lead us nowhere.
Only the ghosts are always here for us. They visit
sometimes in a drift of goosebumps or the stir
of an unexpected breeze. Everything important
remains a secret. The ghosts won’t tell us
what eternity feels like. But they wait in a heavy
stillness or a taverna where we take refuge in
an emptiness we can’t explain. A dry leaf falls
out of nowhere. Suddenly I see your face in a way
I never did before. When they’re lonely the ghosts
take our hand as we circle narrow streets past
the Agora, up the hill to the bone white Acropolis
feeling certain we could never disappear
in the ancient nonchalance. Once you were
a god who walked in the courtyard of my heart.


In the ancient city it is impossible
to feel old. Gelato colored buildings and dusty
paint on the walls around as we walk
snake-charmed sampietrino streets.
On the terrace of the Hassler Hotel bar
the sun sets dark into glintings of possibility
alive in a prosecco glass. A surround
of stars appear each a tiny flashlight
of regret memorialized, not the wish or
a navigator’s solace but marking instead:
if only I had done this instead of that,
if I had said this instead of that.
One hundred forty saints and martyrs
stand in St. Peter’s Square, St. Thesia
dismissed from martyrdom, still allowed.
Lined up along the roof’s edge they
beckon to one another to ease the boredom
and see who will jump first. Or in a garland
together. They don’t bother smiling
at tourists, their garments wild rococo ribbons
dreaming in the wind and limbs like ripe
loaves of bread. Each morning we drink espresso
and eat cornetti. A moment. A moment.
A moment. The ellipsis on an empty page.
So many statues standing on the roofs
of Rome – married to the winds, eternal figures
trapped in air, watching us below, watching the stars
above, with their travertine regrets no longer
viable. But things could have been different.