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[APRIL 2010.]

Kaplan, a company that once employed me, has decorated its Berkeley office with posters of teenagers making virtuous and determined faces, as if America’s Last Best Hope, alongside copy such as, “My name is Scott. I’m going to be an engineer. And that’s not negotiable.” And if no one is willing to negotiate? There’s the same determination in the robin that scuttles around ten feet in front of me. It disturbs the dead leaves, pecks what it finds there, lifts its head and warbles. It watches me, of course, but doesn’t believe in my power to threaten it. Probably they do make good companions, as Audubon told it: “The gentle and lively disposition of the Robin when raised in the cage, and the simplicity of his song, of which he is very lavish in confinement, render him a special favourite in the Middle Districts, where he is as generally kept as the Mocking-bird is in the Southern States. It feeds on bread soaked in either milk or water, and on all kinds of fruit. Being equally fond of insects, it seizes on all that enter its prison. It will follow its owner, and come to his call, peck at his finger, or kiss his mouth, with seeming pleasure.”

My startup’s product is launching and from this point will have to be managed by telemetry. My dissertation is collecting signatures like some kind of misguided ballot initiative, so that it can go to rest in its vault, and I am very near sealing up a collection of eight short pieces. I started another record but have to delay it because of some weakness in my right hand, which needs to be investigated: anyway things are all right, they are clicking shut.

 

Romulus (3 of 3)

VII

Rape and murder have their hour,
   but it is best when they are ended;
best when they fold under Romulus like a cloak,
   smoothed to regalia and tame.

Ten curiae per tribum, ten gentes per curiam.
   A hundred-year truce binds the Etruscans of Veii.
Three thousand infantry to each legion.
   Three hundred horse in the guard.

The Aventine Hill, lost city of Remus,
   shrinks in its new-built wall.
The boys toss javelins in the forum.
   The Sabine women are happy at their looms.

VIII

   He has dressed in Scarlet with a purple-bordered Robe!
   He gives Audience on a Couch of State!
   There go before him others with Staves and leather Thongs,
      to bind on the moment whomever he commands!

   INSIGNIBVS VIRTVTIBVS EORVM DOMI FORISQVE S P Q R

   Romulus makes sacrifice at the temple of Vulcan
(man most religious, he has decreed lustrations,
      sacred fires)
   and the Senate of Rome murmurs at his back:
neither are the Patricians any longer admitted to State affairs
   only is the Name and Title left them
they convene in Council rather for Fashion’s sake than Advice
they hear in silence the King’s commands, and so depart
   he of his own accord has parted among his Soldiers
      what Lands were acquired by War
      and restored the Veientes their Hostages

   Midday of white stones at the hill?s foot.
   To appease the fire
      (let Rome not burn)
Romulus tosses live fish into the iron hearth. Then pivots in state,
   finds the Senate of Rome risen around him
      stares and knives

   He turned, they say, as in foreknowledge
      that the wind was to rise,
      and the sun to darken like blood.
   He laughed in their faces. Him it convened
      to be made a god.

   yea, it pleases the gods
         —not myself, the gods—
      that I be taken upward

IX

VIVET ROMVLVS

         in the unbodied air, the magnetic lines of earth
      each jot of force a kinglet

   the walls disperse but are not unmade
      new masons raise higher old marbles
   reshape blood and bone of Romulus

VIVET HONOS LATIVS SEMPERQVE VOCABITVR VNO
      NOMINE ROMANVM IMPERIVM

         the sky his skull, the sea his ichor
            in paths of birds his dark will
         all roads conduce to his core
            in pulsed harmony of milestones
         the wandering tribes his errant children
            of mundivorous mind

X

   IVPITER OMNIPOTENS
      victor’s laurels
   AVDACIBVS ANNVE COEPTIS
         our burden

      glory of Mary and the martyrs
         you owe to Romulus dome and altar
      flying cross of Andrew and George
         the arm of Romulus holds the scourge


   SAECLORVM NASCITVR ORDO
      Aeneas and his gunboats
         new Carthage, new Troy

      children of plains and temperate waters
         boots of Romulus keep your borders


               ANNVIT COEPTIS
      heaven’s broad hand
               ANNVIT COEPTIS
   and a curse on that poet
   whose words Romulus’ arm prolongs
               ANNVIT COEPTIS
   a curse on that poet
      who speaks but with mouth and tongue of Romulus

 

Romulus (2 of 3)

IV

From something’s belly sprung a prodigy.
   Two heads and four legs.
Infants tell nothing, they are pure seed: but these!

   As if men of deeds were mirrored in the babes,
      as if mirrors turned on deeds to come
      cast backward in unnatural eyes
   of unnatural thick-thewed infants.

A vine has sprouted.
   Cut it.

V

               Romulus self-engenders:
   DICITVR
   “The river flowed over into which we were cast.
   Time’s torrent held us and did not devour.
Washed up at the fig tree,
   we lay on our backs, and our infant sexes pointed nowhere in the breeze.
A lupa, common whore, bowed over us,
      shaded us with her hair,
         dangled her teats in our faces.
   Birds left us food.”

VI

   In this wise (says the scholiast)
   the earth acquires its king.

   We mark his coming and the division of time:
      first the eternity of kingless earth, fallow in its sun,
      then the commencement of war and aqueducts.

    Remus troubles us. Two-headed birth
      we understand, but the prodigy in later life,
         after the king splits himself and slays himself,
      is vexatious.

   The stories branch without confluence and comfort not.
   How many eagles over the Palatine Hill?
      And if they were vultures?
   And if an aberrant shovel, and no one’s intention,
      cracked Remus in the head?
   The outlines, brilliant without depth, cannot be judged,
      yet each may believe in his heart that the darker half,
         the slain shadow, would have been the better king.

   The city that wasn’t! Specter in the alley,
         lantern’s inversion! Pavor nocturnus! Remus!
      Lemurs! Larvae! Rise in dread at midnight,
         cast bean-pods over your shoulder

                  HAEC EGO MITTO
   HIS (inquit) REDIMO MEQVE MEOSQVE FABIS

 

Romulus (1)

I

NASCITVR ROMVLVS in anno of his own making
        self-engendering
            creates his circumstance:

II

“I must be preceded so—
    lore of Aeneas and his line,
lust for what is set apart,
    adumbrations of the divine.
Give me a virgin with suitable pudor.
Give me prophecy and a god in the corner.”

III

It is attested that from the hearth of the king issued an apparition of arms
        and a virile form,
which remained some days in the household.
Honor to the king! He proposed coupling between his daughter
    and the virile form,
be it accomplished
                        FIAT
(unless the daughter refused and they had to bring in a maid)
                        FIAT
    “There shall be no waste of apparitions;
        their lusts and ours must flow in one channel.
Something consummate the virile form—”
                        EXIT MARS

ORBIS TERRARUM FUXOR ROMVLVS

 

George Seferis, A Levant Journal

24 July 1942

The Dead Sea is another story. The mountains that enclose it in the distance are pale blue. As you approach, looking across at them, it’s like entering a spa bath. We stopped at the hotel, a modern contrivance. We were very thirsty. Further down was a harbor for sea-planes. The first thing you notice about the Dead Sea is the silence. Its water is almost the color of lead, it repels the human in you. Still, I decided to try it. I undressed in a bathing-cabin. On my way down, I could feel the dry salt on the boardwalk, thick and sharp. When you try swimming, you feel as though you’re not in water but in a different element that obstructs you and pushes your body upwards towards the surface. Only your head is at liberty to sink. But then, when you let it, your eyes, nostrils and palate are seared by the salt, your hair feels as though it’s clogged with glue. It has a bitter taste, this liquid. But what makes the greatest impression of all, an impression almost of horror, is the total absence of any living thing around you. Not only are there no fish or water-insects, but no seaweed either, not the slightest fuzz of green on the pebbles at the bottom. You feel yourself to be a grotesque exception, a living being, in the midst of this liquid death.

At the Monastery of the Forty Days, they showed us the rock where Christ had been sitting, when he was visited by Satan. A tiny church was built over the rock, and on the wall, to the left, was hung a notice with the relevant passage from the Gospel, in English, and beneath it, in block capitals, also in English:

THIS IS THE PLACE GENTLEMEN

This “gentlemen,” that you’ve gotten used to seeing on notices in other places in England, and to hearing in other circumstances, came as a slap in the face. A symbol, too, of the impenetrable mess we’re living through now: a prank of the crudest kind.

 

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