historical poetry

In Early August the Wells Went Dry

These lines were etched into the walls of the House of Poppaeus Sabinus.
These words were cosseted by Vesuvian ash while the city of Pompeii slept.

Do you listen? Can you hear their breaths:
Awkward, staggered breaths?  
Almost a language—Non-words uttered by
those who ignored their own deaths.

If you felt the fires of love, mule driver.

Listen to the etched words. Press yourself into walls.
Christen them with your ears, your eyes, your pulse.
Here division between man and stone eroded under 
aa and ahs as ash smothered the village.

Mule driver, if you felt the fires of love,
would you make more haste to see Venus?

Ash plastered her mouth, pent her voice,
but time has not smothered her love.
Composed some distance from her destination
She pressed her eager urges into the doorway:

I love a charming boy, I ask you
Goad the mules, lets go.

Take me to Pompeii—

Transposed never to decompose,

where love is sweet.

Thanks to that smoke pine tree
Recalled by young Pliny.


We cauterized the image of Nero
fiddling as Rome burned into ourselves.
Once the stench of burning scattered we
embroidered it into our imaginations,
but then forgot about Caligula’s
cacoethes for nectarines.

What a shame—
there was left of orange thread, too.

Caligula indulged in nectarines.
He despised the way his tongue felt
pressed against peach pelt. When fondling breasts
and choosing fruit he would leave
sticky thumbprints. Sticky bruises. Sticky kisses.
Caligula suckled on nectarines—corpulent
and firm—big as the sun setting over Gubbio
when August bleeds into September.

And there was orange thread.
And there is orange thread.

Making Apples

The Tsoyaha are the children of the son.

Last night I dreamt. Philomela—
I dreamt of you last night
Philomela—we were in South Central
Oklahoma. Listening to Euchee elders
squabble over what Maggie’d actually do
if she won this week’s jackpot.
Philomela—do you remember;
do you remember the way the cauterizing
sun fell over half-urban sprawl and
how Magda, restrained by heat, could barely
twitch her limbs to discourage fat flies—
her eyes following swallows weaving
in and out, out and in of electric lace?
This is where you lean to me.
This is where you press your lips to my lips.
This is where you breathe words into me.
This is where you force words into me.
“The wire web
holds the sky
in place.”

Magdalene was her Christian name.
It was her second choice. She preferred
Irit. The nun in charge of names
insisted that ‘Irit’ was not the name of
Lot’s wife. The bible never named Lot’s wife.
But, if the girl insisted on this moment
of Genesis she could have ‘Salt’ as her
Christian name. The girl breathed a Euchee cuss.
The naming nun answered with a smile, pushed a needle
through her tongue and gifted her the name:


This is where you leave me,
holding a half woven dream.
This is where your tongue becomes
Magdalene’s tongue, scarred
and thick in my mouth.