Looking at the Romans
in the museum, the heavy marble busts
on their white plinths, I recognize one likeness
as my uncle, the retired accountant
whose mind, like a conquered country, is turning
into desert, into the dust of forgotten things.
The white head of an old man, big as a god,
its short curled hair still rich
as matted grass, is my grandmother,
a Roman on her deathbed, surrounded
by a citizenry of keening, her breaths rising out
of the dark of a well, the orange medicine bottles
massed like an emergency on the table.
The delicate face of the serious young man
is another uncle, the one who lost
his friends when a plane hit their aircraft carrier,
the one who dropped pomegranate fires
on the scattering villagers, on the small
brown people who looked like him.
One bust is of a noblewoman, the pleats
of her toga articulated into silky marble folds,
her hair carved into singular strands:
she is the aunt who sends all her money home,
to lazy sons and dying neighbors.
Another marble woman is my other aunt,
the one who grows guavas and persimmons,
the one who dries salted fish on her garage roof,
as though she were still mourning
the provinces. Here is the cousin who is a priest.
Here is the cousin who sells drugs.
Here is the other grandmother, her heart still
skilled at keeping time. Here is my mother
in the clear pale face of a Roman’s wife,
a figure moving softly, among flowers and slaves.
“Looking at the Romans” from Chord by Rick Barot, ©2015. Reprinted by permission of Sarabande Books, Inc.