lessons never learned…
It’s true I lived in the twilight of empire,
the glow at the center already muffled in rumor,
the provinces indistinct, conspiratorial,
alliances like sand falling through the tired fingers of diplomats
while the orators held forth endlessly in the splendor of their halls.
Yet many believed grand days were still ahead of us–
and how, in this, were we different from any age?
There were the usual cabals,
careers to be made among court intrigues
as the wheels of dynasty ground slowly through a calendar of ceremonies.
Slaves peeked out from invisibility from time to time–
an eye, an open mouth, an arm raised then subdued–
and we knew of warrens near the public temples
where plague ruled and flesh was coinage.
But laws and executions gave us a sense of protection,
and there were holidays and amusements,
abundance in the markets for those who had means of exchange,
and tribute still coming in along our fabled roads.
At the outposts, war on small war–
so many, when I think back I lose track of them all:
incursions in the forests, seizures of islands,
fiefdoms defended or toppled among odd sects in the desert.
We took our reports from the centurions
and, when we weren’t too busy or tired of it all,
discussed the day-to-day triumphs of the legions abroad.
We knew the most important concerns are close to home.
Our vineyards were narrow but well cultivated,
our marriages reasonable.
Faced with confusion, we were content to wait through it.
We placed our trust in character and good management.
Like others, we had our gods and offerings,
our games of chance, the oracles with their mysteries.
When we thought about the future, we saw our goals
as shimmering ideals, simple and universally shared
except by those who wished to do us harm.
We were a generous people and kept our hearts open.