School of Athens

Because we missed the Raphaels the first time
we crossed the Vatican twice. Twice
with weary children down the long crowded galleries;
twice the Sistine Chapel
& the hushing of our awe.
The matriarchs’ arms grew buffer;
the damned were damned again. Einmal
ist keinmal
the Germans say, though
they dream of Venice, not Rome.
Once is nothing: even children get the feeling
that they’ve lived this life before. Once
I was nineteen, watching conservators
brighten The School of Athens. Every city
seemed another world but many worlds
is not the same as many lives. If once is nothing
then inferno is a loop, our gravest errors
skipping until watertight as marble.
In Venice, a kind Australian pulled our suitcase
so I could carry our son. We’d missed
our vaporetto stop, tired from driving all day. Soon
our sons were drifting off in strange beds
on the edge of the Dorsoduro. I’d been here
once before: it was night
& I was lost; the scent of baking bread
drifted down from an open window.

Chris Santiago is the author of Tula, selected by A. Van Jordan as the winner of the 2016 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry and published by Milkweed Editions. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming from Cortland Review, Guernica, Copper Nickel, The Adroit Journal, POETRY Magazine, the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day Series, and The Slowdown, hosted by Ada Límon. He is a Loft Poetry Mentor; a McKnight Writing, Kundiman, and Mellon Foundation/ACLS Fellow; and teaches at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN.