“Fallen Empire”: a poem

Fallen Empire

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.


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