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Through a Glass Darkly, LXXIX AD

"The heat of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 CE was so intense that it turned a man’s brain to glass. Scientists hope to be able to decipher some of his last thoughts using AI and recent advances in deep silicon photon-counting quantum tomography (DSPQT)."—news report



What might he have imagined then,

inscribed on lobes of his glass brain?

Vespasian’d died, “becoming a god.”

His son Titus, the new emperor,

has banished Berenice, his Jewish princess,

“to please the Senate.” Is that bad cess

or antisemitism??  The thing’s odd!!

And genocide in Palestine.


What’s going on? Perhaps, like Flavius

Vespasianus, born, too, beneath

Scorpio’s fatal star, he's becoming

a god, or a small part of one.

His mind retreats, his member is engorged,

before his eyes a fantastic new world's forged.

Maenads rave—such madness is adrift.

Who's Higgs Boson?? What's Taylor Swift??


Mozart’s Berenice opera's

theme's La clemenza di Tito.

(That’s called “Italian”—it seems all

too like the scugnizzo Latin

of legionaries and blue-nosed

native Wogs on Hadrian's Wall!)

Così fan tutte, as Mozart also wrote,

to tease the ladies, and a bit to gloat.


La clemenza di Tito, Marcus kids, 

tells of the derring-do of Yugoslav 

commie partisans in World War II! Hah

-hah! Would Wolfgang Amadeus have known of

them? Unless, incredibly, as some nuts

maintain, he was really an Oberst

in the crackpot Adolf’s Waffen SS,

and JosipTito'd upped the bids.


It’s nearly noon. Time still for forty winks’

longing, splayed on one's six-packish tum-tum;

this drowsy nodding’s best foreplay [he thinks]

to mounting poney-eyed Drusilla

behind divine Augustus’s shrine at 1.

Though hot in August, it’s so @#&%!&!

cool this Virtual Virgin’s soon to trot!

[The scene is shifting, but it’s what we got.]


832 years it's been

since victorious Rome was founded, has it not?

Ab urbe condita. But now Rome’s scuppered.

For supper tonight, there's bearded mullet,

a purslane salad, and fava bean purée,

a feast to amuse his jaded gullet.

And purslane amulets protect you, hey,

averting evil, he'd heard old Pliny say.



Notes: For an earlier version of this poem, see the New English Review, July 2024, "Last Thoughts in LXXIX AD." Epigraph: Corriere della Serra ("Greenhouse Messenger" [Naples?]), and cf., e.g., https://www.sciencenews.org/article/mount-vesuvius-eruption-human-nerve-cell-tendrils-glass. Scugnizzo = street urchin. Così fan tutte =  “All females do that.” Oberst = major. Purslane amulet: Pliny the Elder, Natural History 20.210. The elder Pliny died in the eruption of Vesuvius himself.

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