They come from Rome, the revelers, all gold and violet tattered. They come in carts and broken litters, sedans and palanquins. They ride on bridled mules and once fine horses. They walk and limp and drink a bitter wine. They remember (however vaguely) a prior age, a higher light: plumed gardens full of olive trees, a villa strung with burning lamps. They remember halls of fine marble, the lips of pale young men. They sing and bare their teeth and move their strange procession along the dusty road. Some wear masks of ivory, some of hammered silver, others still are bare-faced. One of them, a tall man with long arms, carries a horn. He uses it to make a reedy sound. Another strums a broken harp. And still another pounds a clay urn as if it were a drum. The sky is vague and white. The trees, dead and leafless. The revelers do not pause to look at the ruins on the outskirts of their city. They know the ruins well enough. Fallen aqueducts and shattered tombs, rose-colored brickwork, all in pieces and silvered over with lichen. Here in the countryside, the hills are brown and burned. And the autumn wind seems to bear a message: take comfort, men, for all is dying, all will soon be dead. But these revelers, they do not pause, they do not listen. They make their way deeper into the country, moving toward the valley of the Tiber. They know their destination well enough: the storied pleasure dome, the labyrinth and the feasting hall. The country house where Roman men have always come when they are in need of delight. These revelers remember their fathers going to such a place. They’ve heard stories all their lives. And now they too want to drink the house’s wine and eat its fabled dish, the stewed tongues of songbirds. They want to lay in dark chambers and stroke the house’s handsome ghosts (the limber soldiers and the athletes and the dark-eyed youths who once lounged on the steps of the Forum). These men, the final revelers, they want this country palace, this dream. The Huns and Vandals will not harm them there. Falling will not harm them. They remember, as they walk together, what their fathers called this place: “My house of gray forgetting. My spilling forth. My dust.”
Adam McOmber is the author of This New and Poisonous Air: Stories (BOA Editions 2011), The White Forest: A Novel (Simon and Schuster 2012) and My House Gathers Desires (BOA Editions 2017). His work has appeared recently in Conjunctions, Kenyon Review and Fairy Tale Review. He teaches in the MFA Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.