Make Believe by Rebecca Hart Olander

Best of 2019:

We made a temporary home just up the hill from the Colosseum,

walked the dusty track of ancient chariots, ate as if our lives depended on it,

all manner of pasta with clams, beef, bacon, and lobster, Chianti from a basket-

bottomed bottle, and water, still, or gassed, from vessels of tall green glass.


We made coffee in a silver device screwed together at the center,

only room for one at a time, and sat drinking it looking out across rooftops

over edifices tinged terracotta and sunflower, the shade of the paintings

still gracing the tomb walls within the catacombs of San Sebastian.


We made a nuclear quartet again, the pieces of our family puzzle

joining as we walked labyrinthine streets in search of sights

we’d seen by day but hoped to see again at night, dogged by exhaustion

and the ever-present exhaust from the tailpipes of scooters and tiny cars.


We made good time on foot, crossing to the seedy side of Rome

where street vendors sold coiled scarves with the same ten patterns,

red with white polka dots, paisley blue, repeating table after table, as if

to break us down incrementally, to make us say Enough already, I’ll take one.


We made reservations without plans, open to seeing what we’d see,

but then, amidst the ruinous present, couldn’t help but study the map,

searching for how it could take us to the Mouth of Truth, or the secret keyhole

of the Knights of Malta beside Santa Sabina church atop the Aventine Hill.


We made tourist mistakes, trying to wave a bus down but only managing to bid

the driver buongiorno, then hopping on the wrong bus as it hurtled past the pyramid

beside the Protestant cemetery we’d been aiming for, so that we had to disembark

and take a subway back to where we’d missed Keats and Shelley’s bones.


Three out of four of us took a plane home, but we left our oldest child by the gate

to make her way to another country as we crossed through secure borders

and spent the last of our brightly colored bills on lemon-tinged olive oil and wine.


We’d made it seem as if she hadn’t grown up and away, as if we had the right

to chide about bedtimes and packing. We even made believe that we were just

on holiday, not running from future ghosts, and all those broken urns and columns


of curling travertine leaves let us think we were right, that the past can be

recovered from. That slaves didn’t turn every cog and push every oxen,

that good fences make good neighbors, that we’d come back again someday,


would stand again under domed ceilings painted with stars, would even be able

to preserve what we have right now. A pretense that every day isn’t like being

raised on a wooden elevator into a cheering throng who hope to see you bleed.


BIO: Rebecca Hart Olander’s first chapbook is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in 2019. She is editor/director of Perugia Press.

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