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The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

In his bone room, Thomas Jefferson

displayed the skulls & tusks

of wooly mammoths, polished

to a glisten with white vinegar.

Some men want the past to stay still.

Others would like it to arch its back.

My father, corralling the mess, keeps

the biographies of presidents on his bookshelf,

arranged by the color of their spines.

Days of Fire, American Phoenix, American Lion.

Having a form of dominion, he names

the source of every animal noise

billowing from beyond the dense treeline,

correcting my baseless assumptions.

What I thought was the snort of a ghost

is a deer with a broken hoof, stuck in a cattle grate.

What I thought was a screaming woman

is the agony of a red fox in heat.

One night, in anger, he towered over me,

pelting my torso with crumpled up dollar bills.

The nature of the punishment was unclear.

Something dog-like was barking.

When I flattened out the money,

the dead men stared, frozen in their green ovals.



There has to be a German word

for this relentless stacking of history

on top of history, a word like the one

in the travel guide that’s best translated

as inner pig dog, or your favorite: a face that’s begging

to be slapped. Over dinner, Johann maps

it all out for us. There have been two or three

Berlins, & time has stopped somewhere in the fourth.

We are eating small plates of salmon rillette

in a biergarten converted from an old