from Tacitus: City of Unseens
    David Gewanter
    The old Annals bored me, a wheezing chronicle of
softhanded pander-priests: the fragrant meats and oils,
potions to plump a husband, gutted rabbits dictating a
future we already know...not a word for God. Better to
write of the flesh, spirit swallowed up in the body, a dagger


    bedded in the chewing ox. Will my Annals slice good
from evil? A history should read like morality, poetry,
epic...but ours was a mean, obsequious age, monotonous
downfalls dangling from monotonous causes. In the
Senate, a son prosecuted his father for treason--both were


    named Vibius Serenus, the docket read as if one placid
man attacked himself. From the shores of Capri, whirl-
pools of sedition flushed the eye of Caesar. Men stooping
to pray clutched nooses to their breasts... In ancient days,


    savage man lived in peace: since then we have shaped
ourselves as beasts; chroniclers tell of women giving birth
to owls, or stunted deer; even the phoenix, flying in
splendor from Egypt, so appalled the birds nearby they fell
to the sea dead. History, to sound like poetry? Devotions


    sung to the deaf. Our curses continued, bland Heaven
watching all: in Fidenae, an ex-slave built a shabby
amphitheatre for gladiatorial shows--starved for
amusements, whole families swarmed up the stands...
suddenly the structure collapsed, crashing outward


    and inward, flowing over the crowd. Some found the
kindness of quick death, but scores of others lay mangled
among the stone and timbers--frantic, their kinsmen could
see and hear them but could not pull them out. Days and
nights passed...there they sat, still talking with the victims,


    until at last no moan or answer came from the ruins.
When the rubble was cleared, they rushed to hug and kiss
the corpses, quarreling over faceless remains. Thus disease
spread through Fidenae: fifty thousand perished. Why read
of Romulus, Theseus? A theatre, a city, stained rocks,


    a tomb...banalities make our epic. What else...Lucius
Calpurnius Piso: he died a natural death, a rare end for one
so distinguished. Son of a man whose censorship I have
recorded, he won an honorary Triumph in Thrace, and lived
to eighty. --Moderate, tightlipped, despite irresistible


    pressure from corrupt nobles...accused of moderation, I
suppose--What more is there to write? A windpipe can
be stretched and stretched, till flesh must beg for the blade.
All these men, evil and good, are dead: I owe it to their

         and to their children

         now strolling the leafy avenues
         of this quiet city, not to

         name them here.

David Gewanter's first book of poems, "In the Belly" (Chicago, 1997), won the John Zacharis Award from "Ploughshares". His new volume, "The Sleep of Reason", also from Chicago, is due out in 2003, as is "The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell" (FSG) which he is editing with Frank Bidart. He was a Witter Bynner Fellow at the Library of Congress, and teaches at Georgetown.


In Posse: Potentially, might be ...