Bill Phelps
Companion in Rome
Spring 2021
ARTPIL / Prescription .122

It was four years ago Artpil was founded, on the steps of the Colosseum, under the dome of San Pietro, or in the halls of the Pantheon; or perhaps by the ruins of the Roman Forum, along the canals of the Tiber, and in the cobble stone alleys of Centro storico. Artpil has returned to its origins, like a prodigal after having wandered for a time, all roads have led us back to this place.

Companion in Rome, whom Rome makes as old as Rome,
old as that peeling fresco whose flaking paint
is the clouds, you are crouched in some ancient pensione
where the only new thing is paper, like young St. Jerome
with his rock vault. Tonsured, you’re muttering a line
that your exiled country will soon learn by heart,
to a flaking, sunlit ledge where a pigeon gurgles.
Midsummer’s furnace casts everything in bronze.
Traffic flows in slow coils, like the doors of a baptistry,
and even the kitten’s eyes blaze with Byzantine icons.
That old woman in black, unwrinkling your sheet with a palm,
her home is Rome, its history is her house.
Every Caesar’s life has shrunk to a candle’s column
in her saucer. Salt cleans their bloodstained togas.
She stacks up the popes like towels in cathedral drawers;
now in her stone kitchen, under the domes of onions,
she slices a light, as thick as cheese, into epochs…

–Derek Walcott / from Midsummer

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