Palimpsest by Natasha Sajé


Her last time in Rome, it was warm and damp
and crowded. My favorite city, a palimpsest,
that’s what she likes to say. The first time she’s
twenty and studies all the churches—interiors

uncrowded. Her favorite city, a palimpsest.
Some exteriors: Santa Maria della Pace.
More than twenty churches—inside or out
in seven days. She stays at the Pensione Terminus

two miles outside Pietro da Cortona’s portico,
run by a courtly proprietor and his German wife,
for seven days. She stays at the Pensione Terminus,
the rooms enormous, high ceilinged, the silver shining.

The courtly proprietor and his younger German wife
offer white rolls, butter, marmalade and jam.
Enormous rooms, high ceilinged, the silver scratched.
The fourth time she is married, the owner has a cane,

offers white rolls, butter, marmalade, and jam.
At La Buca di Ripetta, the waiters do not change.
The fifth time she is married. The maitre d’ shuffles a bit.
The antipasto table seems wondrous—squid she’s never had.

The Buca di Ripetta waiters finally change.
At Archimedes she and Catherine lunch with workers.
The antipasto table’s gone—she orders squid.
She dreams of campaniles and baldachinos. The last time,

Archimedes, where she and Cathy lunched with workers,
is closed, and she sees tourists, decaffeinato everywhere.
Bernini’s heavy campaniles had to be torn down.
The Terminus is gone, replaced by four-star glitz.

Eyes closed, she hears tourists, frothed milk everywhere.
Here lies ashes, dust and nothing, A. Barberini’s epitaph.
The sky replete with stars she cannot see.
Her time is short, nostalgia’s a mistake.

A Barberini’s epitaph: Hic jacet pulvis, cinis et nihil.
The first time in Rome she buys an ivory bracelet.
Her time is short; she wants a souvenir.
Here lies one whose name is writ in water.

The first time in Rome she bought an ivory bracelet
she’s now ashamed to wear. Dolce vita. Vita brevis.
Here lies one whose name is writ in water.
Rome was warm and damp and not the same, she says.

by Natasha Sajé

Twitter: @NatashaLSaje

Editor’s Note: The intricate repetition of this pantoum beautifully reflects the narrative. As the title suggests, everything is erased and rewritten—cities, workers, and of course, oneself. This is not always a comfortable transformation.


2 responses to “Palimpsest by Natasha Sajé”

  1. Johanna Ely Avatar
    Johanna Ely

    A wonderful poem!

  2. Susan McLean Avatar
    Susan McLean

    Beautiful. I like the way that the pantoum embodies a palimpsest. I think you have captured what it is like to keep returning to certain places over a lifetime.

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