Matthew Tuckner

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

In the fabricated memoirs of Emperor Claudius, the emperor reads a fabricated poem in the voice of the oracle, predicting Rome’s one-hundred year enslavement to a procession of hairy men. 

One will ride steeds with toes for hooves. Another will gift Rome poisons and blasphemiesand die from a kick of his aged horse that carried him as a child.

I read these words in a book in a library endowed by a man who performed unspeakable acts upon his grandchildren, a man who bought his wife a tiara encrusted with diamonds stolen from a deposed queen. 

Outside the library, a park filled with jump-ropers, fountains, & benches modified to prevent the sleeping of exhausted bodies. I strut below the arch imitating an arch constructed to celebrate the deification of Emperor Titus. An arch peppered with sculpted facsimiles of the empire’s pilfered objects—golden trumpets, fire pans, & menorahs—squished between the fluted columns. 

Before I closed the book, Claudius, the copy, occupied by foreign voices like a puppet, confessed to having “put the good of the Empire before all human consideration.”

If I want to get home, I have to drive on a freeway named after a congressman, arriving at a fork in the road where, depending on whether an accident has occurred, I can either take a tunnel named after a governor or a bridge named after a president.

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.