CLOSER TO ROME

You taught me how to slay a chicken

you would buy on the cheap from a

supermarket in the Roman port city of Ostia.

These weren’t divided villas for the Roman

Condo experiment in the 1st Century.

We lived there in a shared breath with other

immigrants waiting to be admitted.

We waited. Collecting each other’s tears

into the pages of unread books. To forget

the one who was left behind, waiting

for his own death sentence at trial.

More life to steal.

In elementary school, you could not stop

reading literature of high Romanticism.

In the dark blue of night. By a corded lamp

inside a mahogany wardrobe that took

up much of the hallway outside your

parent’s bedroom; one of three rooms in

post-war Soviet communal dormitory.

With back leaning on a faded wall,

I trace you reading & listening to your

mother’s footsteps approach;

putting an end to near-morning dreaming,

in your own goose-feather bed.

Under unforgiving stairs. Leading

out to another cold winter. Taking

me away, to my own footsteps,

in the snow, not yet fallen.


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Stella Hayes grew up in an agricultural town outside of Kiev, Ukraine and Los Angeles. She earned a creative writing degree at University of Southern California. Her work has appeared in Prelude, The Hunger, The Indianapolis Review, and Spillway, among others. Her poetry collection, One Strange Country, is forthcoming from What Books Press in 2020.