A Provincial Roman Town

A poem for Wednesday

A painting of a town with a crumbling wall and green plants climbing up a building
Ashmolean Museum / Heritage Images / Getty

The town swept clean by archaeologists
no longer holds secrets.
Since they lived exactly like us.
They gazed at the sea each evening,
sipped sweet wine lazily,
and dreamed the same things we do.
They knew that dreams go unfulfilled.
They had their gods, quarrelsome, preoccupied,
neglectful. But there was also divinity,
hidden everywhere, invisible.
They tried to catch it in paintings,
in poems and melodies, without success.
The town plan was transparent as the dawn,
and the sun made its way without trouble,
summer and winter, always, daily.
They waited for barbarians, afraid,
raising ever-higher walls and towers.
(But the barbarians never came.)
Time’s light wagons crushed them;
the wheels ran swiftly, silently,
and still run.