The Second Roman Empire

Those were the days, when Julius Caesar
Saw a country and would seize her,
And the busty Roman matrons
Ran the house and bossed the patrons.

Christians, at the least suggestion,
Gave the lions indigestion;
Later, Emperors used perversion
Like tennis, as a light diversion,

And citizens would sell their votes
And carried daggers in their totes,
And worshipped mostly anything;
Forgot to write, forgot to sing.

From Britain’s shores unto Bohemia
Romans practiced their bulimia.
This sounds like what we’ve got today—
I think I hear a fiddle play.



The Garden in the Back

There used to be a garden in the back—
Fine vegetables, some zinnias, a pack
Of Four O’Clocks around a step of wood—
It seemed as if thick clustered roses could
Climb higher than green even rows of corn
Above the highest peaks, just to adorn
The house, two chimneys and the slated roof.
My house. So if some others were aloof,
Disparaging my thoughts, my hopes, my dreams,
I had four walls, two floors, two silver streams,
A meadow and a pine tree and a hill.
A few bright thoughts, like zinnias; my will.



Unlikely Occasions

I asked the doctor, Will I play again?
I’d slipped on ice, my shattered arm was sore.
I could have done without the pain, but then
He laughed and said You never could before!

My mother sent a cookie recipe—
I lost it. Desperation raised my eyes
To heaven, and it floated easily
Down from the ceiling. Faith holds no surprise.

A strange occurrence always causes doubt.
A tour bus stopped at Midget Market, and
A dozen little people tumbled out—
Some things are too outré to understand.

I think then of old Carlo, unkempt sot
Whose contemplative glare shrieked Don’t disturb!
As body fluids froze him to the spot
Cemented. Three cops pried him off the curb.

The downtown traffic circle gives a jar
To memory. One boisterous drunken night
I rode upon the hood of some guy’s car—
Hood ornament, I almost rose, took flight.

If you count down from Newton to this day,
The history of gravity is brief.
But some things you cannot just brush away
Without a short suspension of belief.



A former Wilbur Fellow and six-time Pushcart nominee, Sally Cook is a regular contributor to National Review, and has appeared in venues as varied as Chronicles, Lighten Up On Line, and TRINACRIA. Also a painter, her present works in the style known as Magic Realism are represented in national collections such as the N.S.D.A.R. Museum in Washington, D.C. and The Burchfield-Penney, Buffalo, NY.

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22 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    Sally, top-notch craft, as always.

    The Romans said “Ut pictura, poesis” — as is painting, so is poetry. They were thinking of work like yours.

  2. Yael

    These are all three perfectly delightful and entertaining poems. Thank you for brightening my rainy day.

  3. Sally Cook

    So happy I could do that, Yael. All are built around actual incidents!

  4. Julian D. Woodruff

    These sound as if you could have invented them ex tempore, Ms. Cook. Very sharp and adroit. (Play what again?)

    • Sally Cook

      Just one more example of how fantastic reality often is. Glad you enjoyed the poems

  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Sally, your poems never fail to engage and delight me. “The Second Roman Empire” is effective in getting a grave point across with a clever wit that entertains as it educates. The poem is a lesson in end-rhymes (they’re wonderful), and the closing couplet is a triumph.

    “The Garden in the Back” is beautiful. The linguistic images you paint with the touch of an adept artist are admirable, and the message is spot on. I have a garden in my head… it’s my salvation.

    “Unlikely Occasions” is magical, surreal and spiritual… I especially love the cookie-recipe stanza. My favorite line is; “Faith holds no surprise”. Sally, you have managed to breathe hope and wonder into a world full of darkness and disaster and for that I am grateful. Very well done, indeed!

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I don’t think Sally will mind if I point out that the incident of the lost cookie recipe inexplicably floating down from the ceiling REALLY happened. It’s not a poetic device. Paranormal events of this nature, often occurring in what Jung called “synchronistic” contexts, cannot be accounted for scientifically.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Joe S., how amazingly beautiful! I know this little story of mine is more plausible, but, I still think it has hints of the “synchronistic” about it:
        Whenever I feel a little low, I like to wrap myself in nature, especially the birds. I had been reading that people have spotted cedar waxwings about 150 miles from where we live. Last Friday, Mike and I decided to take a trip with the camera… BUT… he had ordered a crate of wine and the trip was called off. When the wine arrived, we poured ourselves a glass and went to sit in the garden and lo and behold, just above us, nibbling at the spring foliage in an ash tree, were eight cedar waxwings. They stayed for around 30 minutes allowing me to drink in their beauty along with my wine… a perfect afternoon… and no one in our area has seen these birds in their backyards… spookily beautiful! 🙂

  6. Sally Cook

    Susan and Joe –
    The best thing about both your observations show how
    seriously you take my poems. At one time I got a lot of
    “little Sally” comments on both my visual and verbal expressions – not, however, on this site.

    I began to think of it as the “Little Sally” syndrome. It began with a society woman who ran a gallery. She told me right up front that she would represent me IF the paintings were never larger than 11 x 14 inches, and contained only still lives and paintings of houses. You can imagine how I felt, walking into her place past a 4 x 5 foot black and white out-of-focus photo of cabbages, tinted PINK, to see one of those tiny houses I’d painted. Never had a chance with her, although she sold almost every house in the neighborhood that I’d painted.
    But I kept on with painting any size I wished, and one day, looking for an antique treadle sewing machine, I was
    confronted by one of my house paintings.
    Well, I couldn’t leave it there, and never did get the sewing machine. I also found I could buy back my work and sell it again at current prices, so the experience wasn’t a total loss. Susan, about the floating recipe. I have had many such
    experiences, so many, in fact, that I now accept them as normal. And thanks Joe for your comment on Jung. There’s more in Heaven and on earth… Those birds must have known of your desire to see them, Susan. Today I saw some incredibly rich paintings by Piero de la Francesca. Joe, what are the signs of spring in Brooklyn?
    Thanks to you both.

  7. David B. Gosselin

    Dear Sally,

    I especially liked “The Second Roman Empire.” The final line is great, “I think I hear a fiddle play.” It’s subtle and very powerful.

    It’s a perfect way to sum everything up.

    If I had to make one comment it’s that the poem could be more subtle overall though. For example, in the third stanza you write:

    And citizens would sell their votes
    And carried daggers in their totes,
    And worshipped mostly anything;
    Forgot to write, forgot to sing.

    That’s very descriptive. You’re basically just telling us what the story was, rather than telling the story itself. As lame and academic as this sounds, I think there could be more “showing” and less “telling”. Instead of saying they worshiped mostly anything, why not give some image of what that might look like, walking into the ever-expanding Pantheon, or an image that would show how they forgot to write or sing. Perhaps something about mobs instead of choirs, blood-curdling cries instead of choirs of song. It’s easier said than done, but the idea of showing rather than telling can be very helpful when it comes to questions of creating images that communicate what is currently being stated literally.

    Ultimately, I think that’s why your final line is so effective. You found the perfect image to encapsulate what were are trying to communicate. And it worked very nicely!

    Thank you for sharing.

  8. Sally Cook

    Dear David –
    Your comments raise some interesting points, and I do appreciate the time taken
    to do so. I can only say the following:
    Any poem has a rhythm, a swing.
    This is a very direct poem.
    I made a consequent decision to be verbal rather than visual.
    And then there is style, which is so full of a number of things. All poets will develop their own.
    Thanks for weighing in.

  9. C.B. Anderson

    Dear Big Sally,

    You have certainly put Nero in his place, and I’m sure your front garden is as good as the one in the back. But the proper phrase, my dear friend, is: the suspension of disbelief. That’s what makes science fiction work.

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Kip —
      I expected you would show up in your own good time,
      bearing good will and at least one proper phrase in a gift
      And I would have missed you terribly if you had not !
      Consider this: Gravity is a scientific fact. One does not even have to wear a mask to experience it. Newton did not invent it; the thing was always there, wreaking havoc. My poem, I hope, raises that old bugaboo “what if?”
      Though it is always present, sometimes we tend to ignore it.
      It just happens to be one of my favorite questions, so I take it out and exercise it whenever I can. This time it involves floating off the hood of a car, accepting that a recipe can float down from a ceiling, and the damage done to old Carlo’s contemplative stance by three cops chipping away the organic ice and giving him a nice warm bed.
      Perhaps you can see how a proper phrase might not concern me. It is a nice gift, but irrelevant in such a situation.
      though I do very much appreciate the thought
      Always fun talking with you, dear friend.
      But I must ask you — if one can suspend disbelief, then is it not equally possible to suspend belief?

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Sally, to my mind a poet always views the subject matter from a fresh perspective… I love yours! ❤️

        In fact, suspending belief might be the very thing I need to get me through these dire times. Reality sucks!

      • C.B. Anderson

        Sally, the suspension of belief is, simply, disbelief. “The suspension of disbelief” is what enables readers of Science Fiction to accept implausible or impossible scenarios as a background for human stories. And yes, Newton neither invented nor discovered gravity; he simply laid out the laws, simply and elegantly, of how gravity works. But then Einstein came along. Newtonian physics nowadays describes only special (or limited) cases.

        I would never knock you down, and I know that anytime I knock on your door I’ll be welcomed in. And yes, I sometimes come late to the party.

  10. Joseph S. Salemi

    What we need in the West is a “suspension of belief” in the countless stupid notions that liberalism pushes on people. We have to “suspend belief” in the absurd idea that “all men are created equal,” or that “diversity” and “multiculturalism” are healthy, or that “transgendered” persons have really changed their sex.

    • C.B. Anderson

      There has never been a shortage of bad or stupid ideas, Joseph, and you have been telling me this for almost two decades. But the most dystopian Science Fiction novel ever written does not come close to the ultimate horror show to which we are now living witnesses. Our choices nowadays often come down to whether we would rather vote for a complete fool or a total asshole — and that’s in a good year. It’s hard to believe anything these days. If I can somehow manage to turn myself into a Sicilian, then will you bring me a plateful of olives?

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Kip, I’ll bring you a whole tray of antipasto, with my special stuffed mushrooms and fried artichoke hearts.

      • C.B. Anderson

        That sounds great, Joseph. I’ll work on it.

  11. Daniel Kemper

    Loved the “fiddler line”. Inspiring…

    Although no fan of true disaster
    not like this Marxist-COVID sham
    I wish the fiddler would play faster–
    or some pied piper on the lam

  12. Roy E. Peterson

    Sally, I love the powerful last line and the allusions, or should I say more direct comparisons, between what happened then and what is happening now are striking and powerful. I love your poem both as a poet, or at least aspiring poet, and as an historian.


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