The Road to Rome

by Lucy Waigner

I swallowed fifty aspirin, vomited—red as the August streets of Rome.
My mother held my hand as she did when we walked the streets of Rome.

A century earlier, no one saw Quentin Compson drown himself
in Mississippi—a place that lives forever, like ancient Greece or Rome.

My first day, one of the boys described how he’d tried to kill his brother.
Doctors don’t want to understand. How I had to. How Remus needed Rome.

In group therapy, the new girl told an old story, her voice burnt.
We listened as if playing violin, absorbing the distant heat of Rome.

I remember metal grates over the windows, the smell of disinfectant.
Tragedy is secondhand, wrote Faulkner: not the hour but the story of Rome.

An old friend asks me how I made it out—how I wake up, get to school.
I can’t answer his hoarse voice. I can’t explain the geography of Rome.

I slump in the hallway, crying, while our class reads Plath’s “Tulips.”
When I was a child, health was a place as far as here from Rome.

In the hospital, I told my mother I could never forgive her my birth.
In August, I will be an adult—lined with ruins, like the city of Rome.

Still the child in me thrashes, spits. My teacher names her for the drowned boy.
All questions beg this answer, Quentin insists: All roads lead to Rome.

Lucy Wainger grew up in New York City. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in the Best American Poetry series, DIAGRAM, The Margins, Passages North, POETRY, and elsewhere. She currently studies poetry and teaches college writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. More at