Rome: such a great city for walking unless
You are hit by a car, as I was tonight, though it was only
A tiny car. The cretino driver had my language progress
In mind as I practiced my idioms and gestures,
Like what they call “holding the umbrella”
(don’t ask, think about it). The driver’s eyes
Told me I had a long way to go if I wished to
Score a point about livestock and his love life.
Still, a sorrowful ghostly city like Rome is good
For dying if it came to that, so many spaces
For monuments, someday maybe one of Me in Language
School, in full command of the imperfect subjunctive,
Which is called the Congiuntivo Imperfetto,
Which sounds like a coffee or pasta but is not.
Later this night a girl in a piazza swathed in moonlight,
Unlit cigarette in her fingertips, asks in her English,
“Have you a fire for me?” Sometimes even Italian fails.
You won’t believe how much you use the Congiuntivo
Imperfetto during foreplay, painting a ceiling, or when hit
By a car. Night times I spent in the Piazza dell’
Orologio—orologio means clock—sweepingly
Subjunctive and imperfect, and studied the big clock
On the tower, the one with missing hands,
And appreciated anew Italians’ conceptions of love
And death and why they were always late.
I am the oldest student in the class by a factor of two.
Also the only male, by a factor of no idea. The Russians
Have atrocious accents but their grammar and miniskirts
Are exceptional, especially with the subjunctive mood.
The goal is to think in Italian, to speak without
Thinking, so I am halfway home. Maybe it was my toga
That turned the teacher against me. I ask her to go
With me to the Coliseum, where everyone soon dies,
As I will, which is why I first came to Rome.
The most beautiful girl in school is from Algiers.
Her black eyes demand I re-examine my whole life.
Oh, the things I could tell you about language school
Would fill a book, a little grammar exercise book
Specializing in the imperfect subjunctive, required
Every minute in Rome especially while sitting next
To a gorgeous sweet Algerian girl named Sisi,
Which in Italian sounds like si, si, yes, yes.
That’s why, if I have to live, Rome is not so bad,
It’s such a sad city, with the best art over my head,
Cars so small that afterward I run back to language school.
ZYZZYVA EventsOctober 27, 2016
In Conversation with Patrick Hoffman
Location: 7:30 p.m., The Booksmith, 1644 Haight Street, San Francisco
Description: Hoffman, the author of "The White Van," named a Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year, discusses his new novel, "Every Man a Menace," with Managing Editor Oscar Villalon. Free. For more info: http://bit.ly/2dCnOKA
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