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