The way the gondoliers stare at blondes,
Makes me glad to be dark-haired.  Grace, her fair skin
Purpling in the sun, handed her glinting token
To the guard at the gate, who couldn’t take his eyes off her.
He followed her through the streets after she disembarked
From the white canopy of the vaporetto, called her name
In the market outside the dank cathedral.  Meanwhile,
She tossed a blue paper shawl over her knees and scurried
In under the sign of the Cross, slinking into an alcove
That sat silent except for the sound of the buried saints’ breathing.

Jane came home with her arms full of flowers,
After driving along the rocky Western coast,
Down to Naples, where she ate sugared profiteroles with bare fingers,
And ate strawberries out of glasses of white vodka.
She met a West Indian soccer player with pockets full of beer money,
Which gaped open as he leaned her over the pool table for kisses.
She came home trailing the boozy smell of happiness.

The next morning he sent her a text that
Suggested obscenities.  She told him she was pure.
He said, You are the highlight of my trip to Venice,
And gave her a box of roses and a warm bottle of Heineken
and they sat in the bed of the rocking gondola and wound
the snaking black canals until morning.

Kailin was drunk before the rain had wet the beach.
She sat twining her arms around Davide’s face, pressing her
Cheek to his. He would bring her pictures of her face in the night,
And the stars over Rimini beach.  He would press her against the gaping
Black windows of the taxi and slur his desires in her ear.
They finally woke up, twisted on the bathroom floor,
Drank shallow cups of dark espresso and walked hand-in-hand
To the ancient bridge where the city began. She slipped her elbows
Into the notch where lovers put their wrapped-together palms.
She bent forward so that with every breath she thrust closer
To the shimmering water and the opening sky.

Marie sketched cigarette faces in the breeze by the pool,
Crossed one small white ankle over the other and undid
The straps of her bathing suit, although the sun wasn’t shining.
She leaned back and drank a long sip of wine from the green glass bottle,
No label for this local vintage.  When she passed me the wine
I tipped a sip into the lavender bushes growing by the pool.  We were
Laughing when James and Elise came down to the edge
And took off their clothes for a sashay in the cold wet waves.
At first I thought we should leave, but they didn’t mind us.
Marie corked the wine, leaned forward, and said as seriously as possible,
I was here last week.  I thought she meant the sunflowers,
The paths lined with conifers, the meals of unsalted bread.
She meant, in this town, in this city, in this moment of deep
And repressed realization.  Where were we?  We weren’t home.

We drank wine during operas, and bet unfamiliar coins in card games.
We tried to play tennis on white sand beaches, ate salads of tuna and eggs.
In the end, we took nothing back with us, but I took the least
Of nothing.  I took my memory, my hands pressed against my elbows
My eyes aching with the afterimages of Bellini’s overarching
Annunciation Paintings.  I would have liked to be asked.
Instead, I asked for everything.  I asked for the way to the cathedrals,
And the next scheduled bus stop.  I asked the priests if I could enter
In my short skirts and slim-strapped tops, I asked if I could take
Pictures of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus on her lap.  Only later did I ask
If I could have lived differently.  But by then my heart was tired of asking.

About the author

Anika Gupta has pushed a Jeep through monsoon-rich mud in tribal India, ridden a Vespa through Verona's cobblestone streets, and climbed a remote mountain…

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