11 January 2015

The last gladiator in the new Rome

                                                     Brian Barker

                                                     Evel Knievel

He jumps mountain lions, man-eating sharks, a pit of rattlesnakes three
feet deep. He jumps from skyscraper to skyscraper, over ten thousand
hippies marching down Fifth Avenue. He jumps six Soviet battleships
and a caravan of sheiks perched on camels. He jumps one hundred dead
Hell's Angels stacked like flattened Impalas. He jumps the Great Wall of
China at dawn, and the Grand Canyon in moonlight. He jumps fifteen
yellow school buses full of nuns and orphans. They wave pennants from
the windows, pom-poms, streamers, and he jumps blindfolded, with no
hands, spread-eagled while eating a bucket of fried chicken. He jumps
and never comes down, floating on his motorcycle through the blue-black
limbo of a coma. As his cape flaps in the stratosphere, he sweats through
his hospital gown. His hair beneath the gauze skullcap still smells like
gasoline. A nurse sponges his bruised testicles with one hand and hefts
his gold belt buckle in the other. She lifts it to her cheek and dreams of
the Aztecs, of the lost shield of Achilles. He's the last gladiator in the new
Rome, and she feels the light from his broken bones crowd the room like
jig-sawed ghosts. Deep down in his darkness, he's squinting through a
snow of confetti. He's sizing up the next ramp. He's revving his engine
against destruction.

From The American Poetry Review, November-December 2014.

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