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Suetonius Paullinus, Ex-Governor, Flirts With History

Two things an old soldier can’t forget, Clavius -
His battles and his women. The gasping,
The parting and sucking of wounds
Meet and tangle in his ear. My civil servant life
Passes the time, the Senate a war of the effeminate -
Sometimes I want to shake a young sniveling
Pup or two who I hear swearing an oath
To empire here, a glory of Rome there. They’re nothing more
Than battlefield virgins, thinking war is a circle of fire,
Glory blowing outward every day from Rome.
They practically titter about the latest revenues,
Like young girls looking to the old pax, flinging themselves
After the wealth I’ve helped earn for everyone.
In the Senate the old ones go on pretending
They are debating for peace while they stockpile
Their gold, win praise, acquire loyal generals,
Wage a public war without the honesty of bloodshed,
Unwilling to admit that warfare never ends.
And the young, they condescend to me with flattery
About how proud I must be to have served so well -
Did they think I was in it just for them?

Look at this blade - the blood runs along the edge like water.
Your precious protégé is just like the rest
Of his generation - sacks of water swollen invitingly
For the dagger or the sword. I won’t apologize
For his snotty plump red face just asking to be sliced.
He'll think again before he questions the record
Of someone like me. He'll have the shadow
Of that second mouth I've given him in his cheek.

Maybe now at least he’ll have a nightmare -
I’m glad to give him that. Still, it’ll be nothing like
My calmest dreams that stretch out as far and wide
As the yells of charging Britons. I dream most often
Of that bitch Bundica who cost me the west of Briton.
If I’d gone on past the pile of Druids I’d just stacked
And taken Wales, I wouldn’t be sitting with the likes
Of those little pukes who’ve never been on the inside
Of a battlefield or a woman’s most pursed lips.
Oh, they chase them the way they chase money and land,
Imagining that a woman is a moist softness
They can knead themselves into. I’d give
What little I have to put them for one moment
On the field with that whore-queen. She taught me
While she ruined me, and she would leave wheel ruts
In place of the short pink swords they clutch at night.
Once they saw a woman of real power they’d learn too late
(While she caressed their skin clear of their bodies
With a sword) that power is the real leveller.
If I’d known that when I was younger, tens of thousands
Might have lived some few years longer.

She was a leader all right, but like all women
A glorious waste of time to turn on and attack.
Imbecile procurator had her flogged - but she didn’t wait
For my apology. He stole her kingdom impolitely
Before we could negotiate it from her,
Developing a friendship with the tribe. Some say
A kingdom must be wooed - gifts, conveniences, tools
In exchange for obligations and land. She was peaceful once
And would have gone under gracefully.

But the dark fire of her hair burned clear down
To her head and heart. Passion went deeper
In her than the pitiful seed of civilization
We threw at her. Ungodly tall - a primitive charisma.
Once, when I first arrived, I met her old man husband king.
She seemed just for one instant taken with me.
I think it was because she saw in me the warrior
That her husband could not be. But then
I never saw her look my way again. I think it was fate
That brought us to the battlefield - the only place
Where we could lay each other out
Without compromising heritage. Three cities,
A legion of unprepared men. Who expected
A woman’s treachery to translate to battle? The long nails
Digging into my back at the most unguarded moment.
I arrived with a breathless cavalry at Londinium,
Unsupported, left to avoid a rout - anyone who stayed
Had only themselves to blame. She killed them all.
But the wind was blowing that fire closer to me.

We met all right, but she merely disappeared - just like a woman
To leave things open when I thought
I had her trapped, just like a woman
To flirt with history then leave before the consummation.
They said I lost my mind in torturing so many Britons afterwards,
But only part of that was revenge - I thought someone
Would scream a clue about where she’d really gone.
I remember her better than any, Clavius.
Her brutal little island swallowed her up - a sorceress
Whose uncharted province almost lulled me
Into an animal sleep. She still comes to me at night, you know -
Unhorsed, straddling me, holding me down.
I forget who I am, lose my face in the raw silk of her hair
And find my face changed to someone else’s
When she’s done with me. I promise to stay with her,
To never look away from her sea-green eyes.
I let myself be lashed to her bed while she rises and falls
Upon me again and again until I soften in her arms.
How could I wish such things in my sleep? These dreams
Are her terrain I can never win on.
Too long I’ve been nothing but a bureaucrat
Waving ever bigger proclamations.
Dreams like these make empires fall.