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