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Poem of the Week: In the Non-Catholic Cemetery, Rome

Karl O’Hanlon is from Belfast and is a lecturer at Maynooth University

We’ve come here to Testaccio’s lung
to eat blood oranges from the market.
Hawkers, soothsayers, stoics, Yanks, and nuns
span the city — a dry bowl of olive stones,
deep-fried artichoke, oregano, lamb’s tongue.
Somewhere under the roots of the stone pine
and the froggy cisterns, the rhizomatic bones
of Gramsci and Keats grow fingers to commune.
This graveyard is my kind of politics:
the tuberose skull of one whose name
was writ in water emptied of a cockney mind
stuffed like a cricket ball, the imprisoned
flinty passion of the other’s sarcasm.
And I believe the dead haunt the living
in Rome; in the Prato, men in dark suits
with shocking lime socks deal over plates
of pasta e ceci. I swear one quotes Livy.
In San Clemente, an Irish Dominican
with antique courtesy out of Castiglione,
his lilting accent from Roscrea or Puckaun,
mans the purgatorial queue to the lavatory.

Our hands dripping with syrupy citrus,
cats materialise among the white graves.
One fascistic brute ostentatiously toys
with a lizard. Francesca dreams she saves
the reptile, swaddling it in the pocked orange
peel in the pockets of her mackintosh.
Suddenly, Roman sun elaborates a strange
gold band of hair on her tawny head,
and I believe the living haunt the dead.

Karl O’Hanlon's poetry has appeared in Agenda, Poetry, PN Review, The Stinging Fly, and elsewhere.