There was a moment with the man
walking on the cobbled street
a point of pride
outside the marketplace where the weaver sat
selling her cloth under a faded red awning.
A normal afternoon
filled with the clamor of voices
arguing over gladiator performances
there’s no way he could lose.
They shoved him aside and
rushed to get the best seats
at the Colosseum while below
the captured ones prepared for battle
sorted into teams and crying in dark corners
with the clank of armor
they would wear only once.
No one noticed the small boy running
through the crowd as they pressed on
drunk and delirious.
Nothing deeper than the excitement of winning
that comes from seeing another defeated.
The bruised old weaver woman
leaned against the wall with tired eyes
as the senator walked past, oblivious
on his way to meet a potential donor.
When the emperor took his seat
the roar of the crowd shook the stone
as he smiled and lifted his thumb high in the air
his mind already thinking of the next monument
where they could carve his name
see how they love me.
In the darkened temple
voices mingled with the rising incense
as the priests tended the fire
with shadows dancing across the wall.
As the sound of the crowd
washed through the forum that day
the virgins held their breath
and a wind filled the sanctuary
tearing at the sacred flame.
Many years later on a normal afternoon
a man asked his priest
“When do you think the Roman people
actually realized the Empire had fallen?”
I wondered the day he asked me this
if it was the lack of bread
or the lack of a team to cheer on
that made them pause.