Emperor for a Day

"Call out the guards!"
     she cried.
"Let them rout
This filthy rabble,
Crush their vermin race!"

Hoarse whispers from the crowd were heard,
Sticks and hoes raised menacing,
And rotted teeth proclaimed,
"Down with the emperor!"
Crooked crones, decked in rags,
Made obscene signs with wrinkled, taloned hands.
Stones and spoiled fruit were lobbed
At us, the beautiful.
Splattered tomatoes ran down smooth stone walls.

"Has it always been this way?"
     I asked her.

She nodded, looked at me questioningly.
"Well, my Lord, are you going to
     Do something?"

I am puzzled. This wasn't in the script.
"What do they want?" I ask her.

"Why don't you ask them?"
     she says.

"What do you want?" I cry.

"Death to our oppressors!"
     shouts their black-toothed spokesman.
I am pelted by a dirty apple.

"Shall I answer them, my Lord?"
     says she.

I nod, look at her questioningly.
"What are you going to say?"

     she answers ominously, motioning the Praetorian captain nearer.

"Wait a minute!"
     says I.
"You're not going to send the guards out to butcher them!"

"Why not?"
     says she,
Dainty, fine hands balled into irritated fists.
"Shall I disperse them with verses and kisses?!"

I pause and consider the situation:
Rome ravaged in the wake of the Goths,
Rogue soldiers looting the temples,
Praetorian thugs extorting the populace,
Laying plots on the throne,
And all the starving, abused masses crying out for vengeance
On their idle, negligent protectors;
And my beautiful but bestial wife
Who dotes on toxic mushrooms and knives,
And I shout:
"Fuck this!
I've had enough, Ricardo!
Get me off this island!
Give me Old Glory,
Or even Josef Stalin!
Something more civilized, for Christ's sake!"

She looks at me with confused contempt.
I motion the Praetorian captain over,
And she gazes on me with surprise, reluctant admiration even:
Little does she know...

That before I open the magic book
To split this place,
That the Praetorians, on my order, will have dragged her
Outside the palace gates
Where the crowd will gleefully tear her to ribbons
And piss on her remains,
And it'll be enough satisfaction to me
Just to hear her screams even without watching the gory act,
And to know that,
In my brief and useless reign,
That unlike most of the Caesars of yore,
Have at least endeavored to give my subjects
Something they dearly wanted.

George Chadderdon © 1996