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We, the soon to die, salute you. That was what
the gladiators shouted on the way in.
Boar’s-head helmets, tridents, broadswords, fishnets—
dressed to kill, they literally killed
each other, or the lions shipped from Barbary
worth more than any human in the show.
“We, the soon to die” takes five words in English,
one for each of the senses. Latin fits it
in one word, morituri, which might well
be Japanese for that one blowfish
that either tastes the way sex feels, or kills you.
Rome had a close relationship with death.
It lived on top of death, the catacombs
a sister city with her own ambitions.
The gladiators knew which Rome all roads
were leading to, the one aboveground or
the one below. They knew that Claudius
or Nero or whatever sucker sat there
was only waiting out the customary
eight months before his bodyguards would bury
their knives in him. But what the lions knew
was something else entirely. Slow and calm,
they licked their paws of the last round’s Christians.
The cage door rattled skyward. Free of tension
about the future, free of the future tense,
subject to death but never in its power,
they strolled toward the sunlight on the blades.