An Epic Mother-Son Reunion in Italy

"You Over There, You," a poem by Jessica Barksdale

purple sunset venetian canal

An Epic Mother-Son Reunion in Italy

You Over There, You

 There you were on my ancient doorstep, late, or early, unannounced, 
 in the thick black coat I bought you for Christmas. Of course, 
 you were on your way, but when would you arrive? As always, 
 no phone. Me, no extra-key or place to hide it, only two days into 
 my teaching abroad, Florence sodden, dark, full of shadows 
 and confusion. But you convinced the smoking college students 
 on the cobblestone street—who knew me as professor mom—
 to let you through the first two doors, and then you were at mine, 
 a one, two knock. Bearded, cold, smiling. It was February, and you’d 
 landed at Heathrow, taken a bus to the City of London airport. 
 Then the flight and travel path went something like Frankfurt 
 to Macedonia. Macedonia! You huddled on a frozen hill in the coat 
 and in a down sleeping bag. Then to a rickety communist era train 
 to Thessaloniki and on to Athens. Next a port town I can’t remember, 
 maybe Patras, and a night ferry to Ancona and another train 
 to Bologna and back to Florence until you found my building 
 with directions jotted on a ragged scrap of ferry napkin. Long ago, 
 you and I were alone together in the small house, your father student 
 teaching in another town, coming home on weekends. It was you 
 and me, day after day, me too young to mother properly, me 
 in charge of you, already smarter with a wicked baby smile. 
 But there we were in the dark mornings, the slog of the day. 
 We went to every free Wednesday at the merry-go-round, every 
 park. You and me together in the nighttime with fevers. Here, 
 in Florence, in the medieval building, in the odd apartment, you 
 and me again, planning meals of roasted eggplant and 
 brocolo romanesco, walking to the store pulling the cart 
 behind us. You and me in Pisa, Lucca, Roma, and Napoli. The ferry 
 trip to Procida, the walk across the island to eat at the restaurant 
 where Il Postino was filmed. Then the journey around and back 
 to the dock, the man who opened the bag of oranges, beckoned 
 us to take one, two, more, both of us eating while we strolled 
 to the boats. Wandering Florence’s churches, the nunnery, 
 that half hour of echoing song. The Zeffirelli Museum, no other 
 patrons on that rainy afternoon, we two sitting in Dante’s Inferno, an 
 animated show drawn by the director. Hell was wild with color, fluid, 
 beautiful. The Uffizi, Boboli Gardens, finally getting you a phone. 
 One Sunday walking up the hill to Fiesole, each of us eating a whole
 pizza at the crossroads bar. Walks before bed to get the water 
 from the Piazza della Signoria spigots, fresh and con gas, talking 
 about free will and metaphors. You are a man now, not a baby, 
 grey in your hair, a man caught up in his life. Italy could never 
 happen again, me free for months, without husband, you free, always, 
 throwing off rules, our expectations, searching only for love. 
 Late in the trip, that day in April, you brought your newly beloved 
 to the apartment, we three hiking to the Piazzale Michelangelo, 
 you both looking out toward the city, your arm around her thin 
 shoulders, me behind you now, taking the shot. Me still behind 
 you, remembering, holding this precious cup of time, you, as you’ve 
 always been, so unique, so impossible, so wonderful, you and me 
 over there, you and me over, you over there, you.

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Thank You!