Matthew Tuckner

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

After your death, I google the mourning

practices of long-gone bipeds, thinking 

there are lessons to learn from bone, 

thinking I could love the world,

if only I knew the world. (I find caves

covered in red ocher handprints. 

Canopic jars of intestine & gold.)


The doctor diagnoses it as ecological grief, 

the tears I shed over the extinction

of the mountain mist frog (invasive fungus, 

habitat loss) & I suddenly feel like a wasp 

ambushed by a cup. On the drive home, 

I count the glowing eyes of the racoons 

living inside the abandoned Pizza Hut. 


Life fitness. Ghost pepper. I think

I get the gist. We are inside our bodies

like bears in a blizzard. We are inside 

these nostrils, these ribcages, propped 

up by these faulty spinal cords, 

forever living in a fourth floor rental

at the intersection of Reservoir & Grape. 


Some Neanderthals were buried

on beds of kaleidoscopic flowers.

The most stunning conflagration 

of colors I’ve ever seen were the whirling 

pinwheels of rainbow on the surface 

of the Gowanus Canal. It shocks me, 

the glamor I’ll ascribe to any ruined thing. 


The doctor says he wonders if the world 

wished it saw us coming. (We think highly

of them, these abstract thoughts let loose

from the mind.) Tomorrow, I will go look 

at twenty paintings of a single door.

I hope they will rivet me. I hope tomorrow 

will be the tomorrow to end all tomorrows.  


Today, the geese are flickering on & off 

across the sky. The planet occurs to me

like an idea. Sure, I’ve heard grief 

compared to the sea, a panther, 

the tundra, but never likened

to this kind of weather. (Thirty-second 

sun-shower. Daymoon that just won’t let go.)


Here’s what I know about the world. 

When my sister lifts her boots from 

the stirrups & spurs the soft hide 

of her horse, the horse, startled 

& surprised, trots faster, picking up 

its pace, trying to outrun what is still 

clinging to its back.

Matthew Tuckner received his MFA in Creative Writing at NYU and will be a PhD candidate in English/Creative Writing at University of Utah beginning in the fall. He was the winner of the 2022 Yellowwood Poetry Prize, selected by Paige Lewis, and was a finalist for the 2023 Mississippi Review Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, The Adroit Journal, 32 Poems, Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Pleiades, Ninth Letter, West Branch, The Cincinnati Review, The Missouri Review, and Poetry Daily, among others.