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Ovid, Old Buddy, I Would Discourse With You a While

ISSUE:  Spring 1985

upon mutability—if it were possible. But you
don’t know me. Already you cannot conceive my making the second line
of a poem so much longer than the first.
No matter, mutability is the topic, and I see you there, exiled on the Thracian shore
among those hairy mariners speaking an improbable tongue,
a location of you damnably similar to Syracuse, N.Y.,
and I see you addressing your first letter to the new emperor, Tiberius,
looking blankly out to the rocks and the gray ocean
as you search for rhythms and awesome words to make this
the greatest verse-epistle ever written and obtain your pardon, your freedom to return
to Rome, so long denied by Augustus.
Do you know me, after all? But of course, how could you not when my words are your
very bones?
You speak to me of two thousand years of solitude.
Yes, you are writing that letter forever.
You tell me how you cannot name your crime because you only suspect what it is
and to name it would make it true.
You are innocent. Tiberius will not grant you pardon. He cannot.
But he can fling those victims, stopped forever wild-eyed in midair, off the precipice
at Capreae!
Some powers are always powerless.
The change from Augustus to Tiberius, what does it mean,
that instant of mutability continuing forever
between a death and an investiture?
You whisper to me, No pardon, no pardon, no pardon,
and the three sprigs of white lilac in the glass pitcher on my table
that are slightly, but only slightly, wilted—
the stems weakened, the heavy blossom-clusters depending—
tremble as if a wind even from Olympus were meandering through the room.


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