Bio Note: These poems celebrate, or acknowledge, aspects of American life as the country celebrated another Independence Day last month. I continue to cover the South Shore region of Massachusetts for the Boston Globe. Recent poems have appeared in New Verse News (“Texas in Hell”), Terror House Press, and The Poetry Porch.
When in Rome
I’m not speaking here of the ballyhooed empire that had declined so badly few really missed it, but of the Roman Republic, that higher mark on history’s ledger, concerning the loss of which arguments still persist. Was it the long-debated, oft-postponed decision to give political rights to the plebeians, leading (so some scholars argued) to a “morally undermining consequence”? A conclusion that offers encouragement to that traditional, still surviving school of the critics of democracy, who wash their fingers and murmur ‘Shame, Shame,’ call what followed “the free reign of swords,” and lament the replacement of Senate debates by aristocratic families – the Bushes, say, or even the Kennedys – by street-fighting gangs, ultimately led, or funded, by those same moneyed families. Others point to various slave rebellions or the revolt of Rome’s Italian allies, tired of waiting for the same rights enjoyed by Rome itself. And to some, the joy appears to have left the building after the assassination of the tribune Tiberius Gracchus in 134 BCE – almost a century before the time of Caesar, a period when, according to others, everything in the Roman Republic seemed to be “in fine working order.” Or when Sulla, that Caesarian precursor, won power through “The Battle of the Gate,” not by the vote of the Senate, although, if his Senate was anything like our Senate, who could blame him? And then, as everyone in Hollywood dialed their agent, Spartacus sparked his slave revolt, heads rolling on all sides. A generation later Caesar, following ancestor Sulla’s footsteps, while choosing his own geography, crossed the cliché-bound river, won his civil war, and claimed a crown only to lose it five years later, when former allies vetoed his dream of one-man rule. That dream persisted, turning nightmarish in other hands. By then the era of res publica was wiped clean from the sad face of history, till revolution in the American Colonies restored its smile.
Walking the streets on the long evening of July Fourth, in the guise of a beautiful solitude, evening cool settling in, a delicate first quarter moon in a pale turquoise sky And down below, some earthly precincts heard from, solo shots, or the staccato string of the noise-bitten crackers, evidence of the senses for human celebrations. Yard parties, back-to-back laugh tracks rising from either side of a wire fence, flowers and good feeling blossoming, an abundance of festal time in an idiom I do not speak. Afoot as usual, I interrupt the evening rituals of the small, gray-furred Leporidae, in various arrangements, approaching too close for their appreciation of the food chain. Really, guys, I think, anywhere except my veggie garden. They skip off a few feet more, tracking my progress with sidelong glances directed along the line of their hunkered posterior, a backward-looking race, safe in a neighborhood that abjures, thank goodness, the right to acquire hand-held devices suitable for celebrating life by a massacre of the innocents. And so the moon tallies, and the fading light, distant music, the cliched kaboom of the noise junkies, neighborly Asian laughter, and the reassuring silence of all those unknown, unvisited precincts, countless in their number like the stars of the Independence holiday yet to shine. Only the rabbits regard me with suspicion.
Oh, it would be so long. Let’s start at the top. What kind of country, in this day and age, permits itself to be ruled by the sclerotic opinions of nasty old men and a conniving Cruella? I’m not talking about the Taliban or the hall of shame panel of contemporary monsters in charge of realms in Syria, Turkey, India, Brazil, you name it. Why does the shit rise to the top in both the autocratic and so-called ‘democratic’ traditions of governance? That witty Victorian duo wrote a charmingly apt ditty: ‘I have a little list’ – paired by a perfect rhyming mate: ‘They never will be missed’ Oh, what a list we have to choose from in these demented days! The bouncy billionaire, the one with all the hair. And in the event of one’s fondest wish fulfillment, the demise of the lately implicated ex-President: Let’s add him to the list Remove him like a cyst (You’ll probably find him pissed) On this name we must insist Add Mc-CoalMan to the list, He never will be missed (And perhaps a fibbing phony now ex-prime who’s outlived by centuries his time?) For in the present climate, when we’re shadowed by a primate, whose deadbeat board of phonies extinguish all the good, the deeds we say we should do – If only that we could! But mostly it’s that killing bench, who themselves deserve a little wrench, destroyers of what’s fair and good – They invite a little twist Add them to the list! Oh, weep, beloved republic! What profoundly rotten luck! To be force-fed a collation of rotten lame duck!
©2022 Robert Knox
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