We Rented Roman Holiday

Chris Campanioni

& took it out to better see our faces. Stickers still adorned the plastic. I felt the shell & thought about protection, & a little later, what it meant to steal. A price I still can’t name or why we choose this one from every other, glistening in the halogen-lit aisles. We wanted the world & the world in black & white. Classic & romantic the way all dead things are.

We placed it on the dresser & began undressing. One opening at a time, deliberate & metrical. It was as if you were taking notes or I was only watching. The flesh beating. The shadows on the wall. We hadn’t even thought to press PLAY.

It’s sad to furnish you with what you already know. Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, a ride around the Forum against a golden backdrop. Something celebrated & familiar. Faces to freeze like that.

I regret not having a voice to give you. Some soundtrack by which to move along, the same one or one similar to the one playing at this moment, as I write to you. I would have liked to provide another means of transport. A way in or a way out.

Our Roman Holiday resumed on Eastern Parkway, three stops on the red line & two blocks walking. Probably I imagined we’d been riding a Vespa instead. Her arms around my waist as I steered & smiled. Sometimes all it takes is music & the insides of your eyelids. Dark, of course, & all the light in the world.

Outside, it’s still dark. Still & dark. That purple-pink dark before the black settles in, swaths the clouds & stars & everything. All the light in the world but also stillness. Deep & penetrating & capable of being cupped. Nothing but nothing. Everyone is at work or at home or at the movies, maybe watching the film we’d rented. All of Brooklyn still & silent, the way a moving image sits before a trumpet blares & the credits roll.

One by one by one by one.

We walk through the doors slowly, careful not to get caught as the glass pane pulls in, pushes out, lets a stranger pass. Even the carousel scared me as a child. Something about returning. The same but also different. Carousels still scare me. Sliding doors. Escalators. The pause between floors in a moving carriage. Going up or down?

We walk in & walk out into another room, a room that leads to other rooms with pieces, sculptures & artifacts, objects & drawings. A black mirror in which we can’t see anything.

A work of art should arouse a physical sensation. That taut feeling in my groin can rise, at times, all the way up through my throat. What I want above all is a convulsive beauty; I mean the kind of beauty that flutters in & out of frame in the moment before a finger lingers. Aims. Depresses. Something capable of making all the air go. Choked & stuttering & somehow even quiet I want to die in that beauty. I want to live in that beauty too.

None of this is on display the day we arrive, on a Vespa or by foot, scouring the dead as if we’d really been raiding tombs all this time. Isn’t everything an excuse for rupture? You called me depraved once & I began to believe it; I saw the evidence in my own eyes looking back at me when I took the disc out to examine the silver edge, the part with all the footage inside, everything worth watching or everything that’s been filmed to watch later, in another room or another time. We move from room to room & the view opens up in front of our eyes, shifting as the light shifts, gliding like water or flooding the floor with footsteps, careful to step on each crack, the thin line between tiles where guests often leave receipts, a proof of payment or passage. Everything worth looking at should be looked at close-up; I mean in the face. I wait for the epiphany like I’m reading a bad novel. & when it comes it’s because I’ve stopped reading. Here we are at the cathedral. Here we are at the forest’s edge. It’s really as if I am lost & these things had come to give me some news about myself. Say hello & tell me more. First, how about a question.

We took a Roman Holiday & didn’t remember why we wanted to be there in the first place. What a thrill it is to leave ourselves, briefly & without explanation.

The point is not to pack anything at all.


Chris Campanioni’s recent work appears in The Brooklyn RailPrelude, and Diagram. His “Billboards” poem that responded to Latino stereotypes and mutable—and often muted—identity in the fashion world was awarded the 2013 Academy of American Poets Prize and his novel Going Down was selected as Best First Book at the 2014 International Latino Book Awards. He edits PANK and lives in Brooklyn. Embrace the Death of Art.