The kneeling figure is from Yama or Carthage,
& I ask, What was his worth in gold, in salt,
spices, statuary, or commemorated axioms?
L, if we weren't brave enough to believe
we could master time, we wouldn't have
locked hands or kissed the other wordless.
The old gods where smelted down in shops
with crosses etched above the doorframes,
pressed into the coinage of a new empire
as palm readers were flogged in the market.
But of course there sits Marcus Aurelius
with stoic mediations on a borrowed tongue,
gazing out at sublime poppies, an eternal
battlefield, his hand extended as a scepter
over the piazza where his bronze horse
cantered up on to Michelangelo's pedestal
carved from marble steps of the temple
of Castor & Pollux, & we wait for him
to outflank the epochs of wind & rain.
L, everything around here is an epitaph.
Even the light. This morning, squinting out
a window as rays play off a stone cistern,
I hear someone whisper, "Waste no time
arguing about what a good man should be,
the worms will give us their verdict
by nightfall." I don't know who said this,
but today, love, I'm brave enough to say,
Antiquity, here's my barbarian shadow
squatting under the horse's raised right hoof.
American Poetry Review
March / April 2014