Decline and Fall

These shouts are for the public to swill

at a local bar, like a hero’s welcome

or, with confetti and ticker tape, a grandiose march;

Something in the nature of an imaginary square

at M.G.M., with German mercenaries on a hill,

and a thousand stereophonic extras shouting

out their brains for ten fifty an hour. But

that’s show business, and what is truth, and what is real

is all too often lacking in mob appeal. So what I think

when I think of him, is on a seat

at the very side, the place quite staid, as if it were

at the old, now defunct, Park-Bernet. He’s quiet, unobtrusive,

sort of shy, but inoffensive, so

the guards, with a shrug, let him stay

and sit, and watch the show:

So now

as the bidding gets under way

his face, wizened by years

of sharp trade and the getting of goods, and whatever

it was that made him rich

lights up like, This Is It. His hands

itch but he holds them down

and feels the sweat

that pops like peppercorns upon his brow.

I see him sitting there, while

the price of Empire’s getting high.

The bidding slows;

The tension in the place begins to mount.

No one really knows the way

that it will go, but he,

his fingers clenched, and bent

like arthritic spurs,

wonders if he’ll have the courage

to say, I’ll bid

another hundred million gold,

or whether

he’ll be able to speak with style

when he’s up there alone. But now

the stragglers begin to fall on either side,

to ebb and melt into a mass that moans

at each new rise

to fortune and to fame.

It’s like an overwhelming tide

that crawls upon, above, beyond the beach,

and leaches soil from the lands you own.

Didianus Julianus clears his throat, and clambers slowly

to his feet.

Do faces turn?

Do they listen when he cries,

Here’s my bid;

Now make me Emperor of your Rome.