You drive down Appian Street

through a narrow covered bridge

to cross the river on the outskirts


and immediately notice

everything is in ruins.

The worn arch-shaped


water towers still stand

at the corners of town

and you remember climbing to the top


of Constantine’s Arch, spray-painting

“Rome is burning!” on the side –

a lame joke turned prediction


once the aqueducts stopped working.

Scorched fields of wheat

surround you as you make your way


toward the Levi Fountain

to toss a coin into

the eternally soaked pile of jeans.


What do you wish for?

You climb the Spanish Step

from which you can see everything,


a flat expanse of charred stone

and broken glass: the Forum theater

where you got to first base with Penelope


while watching St. Elmo’s Fire,

the Colosseum High stadium

where your best time earned you


third place and blistered feet,

and the Vacation City travel agency

where you planned your eventual escape.


But you didn’t come to survey

the remains, so you jump down

and head home. Under the ashes


accumulated in the basement

you find the small steel box

your father warned you about,


the one he said contained things

you were never meant to know.

You pry it open and


just as you expected, it’s empty.





Photo by Cees W. Passchier and/or Wilke D. Schram at Roman Aqueducts