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Lily Thomson: a poem

I Dream Of Rome

Mildewed roof, thatched ceiling,

A house of concerted promises

where cracked limbs are cracked for kneeling.

I could just about imagine him dangling there,

his legs in the air, pointed and certain,

guiding me west, out of the trenches into the chaffed walls of the stable.

He is not that.

He is not just a guide, not just a method,

a toy,

a symbol wrapped in duct tape, the tall arches serene against the sunset,

where it will lie over caverns, over caves.

He is not that.

He is its ray, beaming through biodomes, our twenty-first century furnace-fire homes.

It's no disgrace, to the let the water sway,

to ignore the cockerel song, to roll over, rest your head,

get lost between the pages just for a minute and slip into the modern condition; half-asleep, tentatively led in.

Late, he breathes for a second, considers the possibilities.

I felt his lips brush mine,

but it was just a tongue badly placed, the lips a parenthesis.

It took me three days to remove it, bloodily decanting wisdom over the chrysalis.

I removed him. From everything.

From the broken-bottled recital of the Decalogue, from the open-windowed apartment,

to the lipstick butts, the food untouched, the sidling sun over our self-made Rome.

The city, so vivid, so crowded, so full of life, never felt so alone.

I left it to you, and I'll leave you it now, as a postcard, a memory.

Words that I wish to be cherished – not by the page, not as some pale imitation college Keats – but by you, held as a memory, if that's not too strong a word.

A remnant of a fire that burned from the amphitheatres to the catacombs.

"How innovative," we said (though we knew the Greeks had done it first).

How alive, how unlike anything I've ever seen; only time I've cried was looking at the Tiber reflected in your eyes.

You were my Caesar, together we took Rome – fleetingly, quickly.

Life was our Boudicca, repelling us homewards, where we know better.

Where I know ironed sheets, bland food and bad weather.

Where I'm backwards, back in place, in the grey doom of a tenement landing,

with the wail of a baby, the cracking of a lock like the popping of a corkscrew.

Maybe someone sits here, like we did with their brush, watching the bugs crawl on the floor,

dreaming of Sabines and Etruscans hanging off banisters in Marchmont, almost slipping, half-soberly swaying.

One body slumps.

One must stay.

A head nestled for comfort, a hand destined to wait.

Lily Thomson is a previous winner of the Sophia Jex Blake essay prize and has been involved in the editorial team for the Glasgow-based literary magazine Thi Wurd, recently working on the anthology Alternating Current. She is currently studying for a degree in English at the University of St Andrews.

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