by Paul Pickering
The waves, dimpled and sun-shellacked,
Make a floating mosaic of golden light
That breaks on the sand
At Baelo Claudia. The same light
That for millennia has been the province
Of warblers weightlessly flitting
Above the Roman road. Even now
Some rise to dart over the forum
Toward the great stone basins
Once used to render for the empire,
Garum, a sauce derived
From the intestines of fish
About which Sophocles
And Aeschylus agreed
The stench unbearable.
Perhaps the drive persists
To flock at this site where scraps
Would once have piled, and flies,
Innumerable clouds of them,
Would have simmered on the salted hills
Of mackerel—a patina of scales
Like pearled shavings, a prismatic sheen
Lining the city stonework,
Drifting on the coastal wind, and gathering
Like fallen, clustered shards
On the sandals of a young woman, perhaps,
Who’d shuffled through the market
In despair for her lover, a fisherman,
Because of a repeated dream
Of him drowned, tangled in netting.
Ascending the steps to Isis’ temple
She envisioned him filled
With light above the water.
Today, examining this altar feels
Somehow more tragic than it should.
A few tourists congregate to admire
The lichen-gilded rock that marks
What was once a sacred room for ritual,
And I take a picture with my phone.
Time past they would uncoil and flash emerald,
A mile-wide serpent in the sky: torrent
The sound of water breaking stone.
Evening, a snuffed match as they’d descend
To roost in oaks above a drift of dung
White as bone beneath the moon.
There, men gathered herds of swine
While boys stuffed muzzles with shot,
Or swung carved poles to bring them down.
Blood soaked the branches and gunny sacks.
A curse spread over the farms, the towns.
Paul Pickering’s poems have appeared in publications including Birmingham Poetry Review, Fogged Clarity, and Terrain. He serves as assistant poetry editor for New Ohio Review. His website is https://paulpickeringpoetry.com.