Romulus

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

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

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