There are more than 200 hypotheses
about the fall of Rome. This is certain:
from 536 to 537 AD a spasm of volcanic
activity darkened the sun. “We marvel
to see no shadows of our bodies at noon,”
wrote the politician Cassiodorus.
Winter passed without tempests,
spring without softness, summer without
heat. Wheat stunted in the ground.
Bushes withdrew berries. Rats
roamed the sewers and swamps.
Plagues smuggled along trade routes
from green Britain to burning
Sahara. In my garden a cardinal
scratches at the strawberry patch,
fruit green on the vine. Squirrels ration
what they hoarded all winter.
Children ask what cannot be
answered. I dream a tall, tall pine,
its barren outline inked against grey
sky, roped at the top. You on one side,
holding an end, I with the other. We
breathe, heave to take it down.
Death, I say. The end of the world.
No, you say. It is only the work.
We are doing it together. The creak
and moan, the inevitable fall.
Alys Willman is a poet and singer/songwriter in Athens, Georgia. Poetry and music do not pay the bills, so she is also an international development economist. And just in case money becomes irrelevant one day, she and her partner and two sons manage an urban homestead where they keep bees, raise chickens and grow vegetables. Alys’ poetry has appeared in District Lit, Tempered Runes, and Salt Hill Journal, and she has published a chapbook, Even the Dress is Smoke. Her songs have featured in compilations including the Voces en Pandemia project (2020) and on an album with her band After the Flood (2016).