Soldiers came

No, not these soldiers – others,
so long ago, ravening out of the forests of
Middle Europe, or the sun-dappled hills of Rome,
or down the rocky shores of the Yalu River,
or the Nile Valley, so green, so parched,
and still we hear their echo,
the clang of their steel, the dull thud
of cleaving bone,
and still we slash and slash, hoping to get it right
over and over, each death a travesty,
each new birth the death of a memory.

My god, you’d think by now
we’d have done it to perfection,
and abandoned it out of boredom
for some gentler pursuit,
but dealing death is our darling,
and a jealous one at that.

Once I saw Ozymandias

There, in a glass case
in the Cairo Museum
lay Rameses II, who imagined
that all who looked upon
his works would despair.

Desiccated, a shrunken pith
of a man, he reminded me
of nothing else but
the last slab of salted cod
at the closing of the market,
unsold.

Despair, indeed, my king,
but not the way you imagined.

The plague

Survivors of the plague, finding themselves neither destroyed nor improved, could discover no divine purpose in the pain they had suffered. ~ Barbara Tuchman

Everything falls, the old banners
Flung to pieces,
God reveals himself a jester,
Indifferent or cruel,

It makes little difference.
Popes and paupers rot
In the same slag heap,
All the rules, shattered.

Such a holy tantrum!
Such abandonment
Not seen since the days
Of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Do you pray, beseeching
God for pity,
If justice cannot be found?
Take care you don’t disturb his temper!

No pretense any longer
Of value, of one thing
Over another, your doom
Is made by a foul divine whim.

Caesar’s exile

This is in response to WE DRINK BECAUSE WE’RE POETS Thursday Poetry Prompt #19: Alternative History.

So what if Caesar
Had a seizure
And stayed in Gaul
After all?

Would the Senate have awakened
And poor old Pompey have forsaken,
Or just knuckled under
The vicious boy wonder?

The Republic, I’m aware
Was on its way out of there
But perhaps there was a chance
For Cicero to dance,

Not on air, as was his fate,
But at Rome’s eternal gate,
As the choice of free elections
(oops, I forgot his predilections!)