Volume 15, Issue 6: Poetics
Fools of Gaul, 57 B.C.
Their circling wall bowed in and out,
all thrown together in a month,
across that plain of mud, of Gaul,
that seemed so firm at first. Everyone
pretended not to see the sinking wall.
At night, their fires showed through its gaps,
their blinking shadows spoke the panic
hiding there. At dawn, they climbed
the wall and stood straight, watching Romans
already working, tying, hammering
rough lumber into geometrical
shapes of war. Machines mean nothing,
they said, just look how short these
Romans are. They barely reach our
chests. Build your toys, baby Caesars,
then send us men our size to bury.
Across the way, among his tents,
Caesar Julius himself stared
through his growing engines, hard hand
on hip, blood tired. Endless sea
of barbars; taming wild men rots
my soul. These last idiots block
my way back home, to marble Roma,
smooth wine, warm bread, sunshine.
If they had taken my offer,
I'd be sleeping near Tiber now.
In days that followed, Romans
kept building, kept listening
to Aduatuci taunts from
their wall. So far, they yelled, so far
your machines sit from us; will they
fly, will Romans fly to us?
But while these mocked, a rumble grew,
and from around that wall others ran
in two arcs, another flowed over
the front, and all merged into
a flood, drowning Romans in blood,
hacking through necks, limbs, setting
fire to Roman engineering.
And just as quick, they vanished, returned
to their circle of stone, laughing.
Groaning covered the field as fog,
and Romans dowsed the fires and hefted
their dead away. Julius stood
among them staring down that fort.
He confessed to officers, My
men have died because of slowness,
my tiredness. Remove these mocking apes
from Aeneas' soil. We must go home.
One day past, the Roman engines
rolled across the sodden green,
and rows of soldiers beat a death
march to the wall. But when
Aduatuci saw the marching terror,
Teuton whines from the wall, pled
for peace, offering slaves. We bow
before the Roman gods, forget
our silly jibes.
Julius shouted within, wanted
their death smeared wide but trumped
by civilization, for custom
guarded their plea, and Caesar ceased
his surge of death. So close. The pain
They must, of course, disarm to nil
said Caesar. But without our arms, they
called, we would be our neighbors' prey.
But Caesar didn't blink, and soon
the trenches outside their fort filled
with weapons, carted way. Romans
moved inside and searched for more,
and set up posts within.
Resting by his fire that night, face
in hands, Caesar pictured home again.
Slowly, though, amid third watch,
Roman mouths dropped again,
as Aduatuci swarmed once
more, bearing hidden weapons.
Caesar roared, and flares burned, this time
ready, so ready with the merciless
edge of civilization.
By dawn, four thousand Aduatuci
were pierced, their blood soaking future
vineyard soil, their heritage erased.
Rome gathered its pieces, moved on,
and Winter was free to fill that land,
as all Gaul was quiet. In Rome,
Caesar rode fifteen days of feasts,
as far away that wild wall creeped
beneath the ground.