michael mack poem "spartacus speaks"
The gladiator Spartacus led the largest slave uprising in the history of the Roman Empire. After his revolt was brutally crushed in 71 BC, over six thousand rebel slaves were crucified along the Appian Way. The poem "Spartacus Speaks" is a meditation in the voice of the gladiator after his death on the cross.
I see much from this height.
Grape leaves wave like nailed palms
and my toes are sprouting flies.
Here on the road from Rome to Capua,
rock-propped crosses tilt
every hundred feet.
My comrades and I sag on their arms,
dragging a foul southern wind.
Crassus and his legions
marched down these cobbles months ago,
leaving trash at the roadside, and us.
Now only merchants pass in groaning carts,
no longer pinching their noses.
Hands over bellies, they snore.
Again this wind, the sky
wiping its greasy face.
My tatters flap like rotten flags
and I almost hear the shouts
of thousands, thunder as my hands
shred on the nails.
I drop face first into Roman dust.
Do not misunderstand me:
I have no regrets.
A gladiator's days are whittled on a stick.
But dreams, they rattle in the skull
like dice. Even now they return:
bony old men shaking the gate,
nowhere else to spend the night.
– michael mack