The Roses of Heliogabalus
[and the paradox of damnatio memoriae]
They hang by the ceiling, soft and limp;
Cartloads of roses, threshed from the tyrant's fields.
Their dense weight settled, they breathe on the feast.
Their celestial scent pervades the air,
Mingled with earthy smells of dormice stuffed
In the kitchen with pork-paste and pine nuts;
Boiled ostrich, flamingos and parrots,
Musky sweat of oiled dwarf wrestlers,
Delicate perfumes of luxury dancing girls...
As they work through the menu to dessert – the secundae,
The emperor, Heliogabalus, gives a great belch
And on a wave of his big royal hand, the roof-gates collapse
Expelling their ambush of costly surprise:
And as the chosen ones inhale with their choked-off sighs,
Petals, light as the breath they put a stop to,
Mixed with spilt wine and trampled dates and honey cakes,
Do they recognise, these guests, they are the top-billed wonder
Stars of this night's scandalous, unforgotten cabaret?
This poem first appeared in Pennine Platform.
Clive Donovan lives in Devon. His work has appeared in Agenda, Acumen, Salzburg Review, Stand, Prole, and Interpreters House.
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