Soldier on Leave

As if I were Caesar back from Gaul,
Or Antony strolling the streets of Rome,
I pass through a countryside full of fall
On roads that well might lead me home.
It is football weather, the balls are sent
Like lazy birds through the crisping air
To float like zeppelins over Kent
Or sea gulls over the walls of Troy.
My lungs are filled with a flood of cold,
The world is a crystal filament.
The leaves are Romans lining the way.
And they burn in bunches, sacrificed.
They are sacrificing the harvest to me
For the summer’s sake I left behind.
And how I deserve this ritual
None knows better than I myself,
Who am their picture of bitter spring,
The Trojan horse and the Greeks within,
The return of the young, the fatal son
Come back to slaughter the innocent calf.
So cows and cattle shrill my name
And my bourgeois brother grits his teeth.
My father dumbly opens his store
To my noisy, filthy, and greedy mouth.
I am used to living with pigs and now
Clean my hands on the living sow.
The Roman leaves are ashes and smoke.
The neighbors offer up a ghost
In their memory of my innocence:
I become a figure in a mask.
They wear me like smiles on a whore’s face.
I am laid in a painted vault of words.