Thursday, December 12, 2013

T.A. Noonan

from The Ep[is]odes: a reformulation of Horace

formula for the ages

To remain and be loved, always pay what is asked. So says Apollo and his sister Diana, queen of the woods. The oracles warned against options for girls, boys who engage the gods. Today, though, we sing the songs of seven hills. The sun is chariot-bright, the day carefree with the promise to hide us from each other when we cannot see. But see more now. See the goddess who protects mothers, known by so many names beyond Genitalia. See the Senate that passes laws to protect their wedlock to men and bear more groping children. See them declare eleven million songs and games. Then the favorable decision of skies lit with fire, nights bright as days, days that become years without sleep. Really, what is Fate but a destination, a promise of doom? Those who have completed the invasion now guard what was once a well-established border. The terms are fixed, the deeds past. Let us ask for fruits and flocks, a crown of cereal, water for our fetuses, winds to shake loose the seed. For you, Apollo, we humbly conceal the boys who will be our weapons. For you, horned Diana, the girls. If Rome was once your corporation, and that survivor Aeneas its first leader, then give us—like him—more than we’ve abandoned. Tame the young. Relieve the old. Release your subsidies, your glory. We, his descendents, offer the blood of white cows. In exchange, give us soft enemies whose bodies will lie smooth on the ground. We live in a time where the old cities, the Indians, and the wandering tribes fear us. On land and sea, they look to us, seeking answers. But the classic virtues have neglected us. Faith and peace, hope and honor must dare to return. Oh, how we wish they would and bring their overflowing horns.

May you, Apollo the prophet
Apollo of the intermittent arc
Apollo beloved of Muses

give us devices to relieve our bodies exhausted by the art of the frame. If you favor our altars and our business as you favored Rome’s, remember another time is always more than a hundred years.

And may you, Diana, who holds tenure over lands in and beyond the border, as is your right
Diana, who hears the fifteen prayers
Diana, who provides childcare

give us friends to put promises in our ears. And to you both, and all the gods, we hope for a certain home and for someone to teach us how to praise.


Why this unholy rush to the right, to the swords we’ve made or adapted? All this blood and envy poured over land and sea, proud fires lit in our own towers, not our enemy’s. Is this how we wish to use our hands? War is not the way of lions or wolves. They understand violence, how there is always a second half. Does guilt grab us to want more? Answer now. Be silent, and the mind pales, infected. Stay astonished, and blind madness imprints our white shock. So is our fate as descendents of a murderer. Our founder cut his brother down, and we, his sacred grandchildren, follow his path to the doomed floor.


Civil war has exhausted this generation and the next. The powers of Rome have no answer. We could defeat our Eastern neighbors. Withstand the threat of the central tribe and its crested king. Deny the City of Marshes and our militant Greeks rivals. Subdue the fickle northern savages and the blue Germans. Delay the African general whose name makes our parents shiver. The godless destroy us now, our once-devout blood made profane with age, the state held by barbarians. To the winner, ashes—a city ground beneath hoof, the bones of our founder unearthed from a sunless, airless grave. Perhaps it’s best, then, for the best among us to escape. There is nothing more powerful than this sentence. Recall the seafarers who, refusing to submit to the Persians, abandoned their damned country and left their ancestral homes to boars, their temples to greedy wolves. Let our feet take us wherever. The waves know where to go. They may call us forward to the north or south to Africa. Sound good? Do you have a better suggestion? Why wait like augurs for a second bird to lead the ship? By the law, swear:
“Only when the rocks rise again from the shallows do we return to the scene of this crime. We raise sails to home when Italy’s mightiest river washes onto Greek shores. When our mountains jut out of the sea. When lust unites the monsters. When the tigers and deer, the dove and hawk join in love. When herds welcome the lion, and goats dance in the salt of the ocean.”
Let the whole damn city flee, or at least the strong among us. The soft, hopeless dullards can lie in their wicked beds. You, who are virtuous, take up the women’s mourning and fly from these coasts. We will wander the oceans, pray for islands with rich, blessed fields. There, the land gives grain without plowing. There, the vines bloom without grafting. The olives branch and figs hang like ornaments. Honey flows from hollow oaks, and water trickles from the high mountains beside our feet. There, the herds and flocks walk to the milking pail each night, uninvited and full to bursting. There, no evening bears growl. No vipers nest in the deep, swollen ground. Many surprises await us in this place where Eastern winds barely scrape our fields with showers, where our seeds are not burned to fat lumps, sun tempered by the king of the gods. It is a place where no Argonaut oarsmen ever steered. Where Medea never set impure foot. Where neither cloth merchants nor sailors in Ulysses’ band ever cast their yards. There, no plagues to ravish our herds. No burning stars to strike our flocks barren. Jupiter has set this beach aside for us, a loving nation. Stained by air, the Golden Age tarnished Bronze, then eternal Iron. Augurs, I am the second bird, and my prophecy is flight.

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