Through the earthworm scent of fresh-broken sod
plowed in a wide ring where the city’s walls would go,
families gathered to see the settlement founded
by the boy to whom a wolf gave her milk, the man
who killed his brother with a shovel to see Rome built.
Young Rome swelled with men, beggars and brigands
without wives, unwanted in the families of their neighbors.
As wine offerings splashed the altar, these men cheered,
knowing that the wine came before the word, and the word
was rape. Take. Kidnap. Acquire. Make their daughters yours.
And the word was given, ankles and eyes twisting to point
like magnets toward young bodies given names, filled with
This is how you beat clothes against the rocks to clean them
filled with This is how you carry a jar of water without
spilling it filled with This is how you mix the dye for wool.
This is how you soak the wool. This is how you ball the wool
and set it on the distaff. This is how you attach the wool
to the spindle before twirling it, thumb and forefinger,
thumb and forefinger, over and over until it has reached
the floor, until the thread is made and ready to be woven.
Not yet filled with decades of these chores, not yet filled with
prayers to be offered before sunrise to Minerva, virgin goddess
of weaving, with a longing to see Sol drive the sun backward
across the sky thousands of times, with the wish to hear a knock
on the door and find Proserpina asking if the house were empty.
In that emptiness, they could sit in silence until the tears started.
They could let each other not stop, not dry them, not end the flow,
let each other be flow, be tempest, for whom even divinity did not
save from the desires of men with empty beds. If winter were
one mother’s sorrow, we will see the world end in avalanches.
In Rome, the men howled as they sprinted toward daughters,
the guests of the city stunned as deer in the moment between
being struck by an arrow and swift-hooved bolting, the fleeing
never coming soon enough to save them, and the hunting never
so easy as when the prey walks in to the hunter’s own home.
It takes only a moment to think the Tiber was blond when we
rode in on it this morning or I have never seen my mother
punch someone before or I hope these men kill each other
so neither takes me or I don’t want him inside me, don’t
want to shut my eyes just to keep that sneer out of my head.
Their families beaten back, the girls were ungrounded,
their bodies covered in claims by the men holding them,
by men who paid groups to snatch up the most beautiful
among them. The claims sank in, until even the girls’ cries
were not their own, an empire growing out of their screams.