After Elagabalus

Philip Sorenson

a mollusk crawls under
the wood to live so the moon

a meteorite on the shoulders
of a hunched old man

Jupiter                        it comes always
over the horizon

like a fleet of burning arrows
and stamps out the beds

drawing back the lid

then the towers had
indiscriminately the gold


probing probing

far from the hacking and crushing

the blackberry bush where elderly soldiers milk
their frightened dogs

on the frozen river's edge

bag of milk

a baby asleep in a pelican's mouth

grasping her penis she dips a toe an ankle
her whole leg into the lake

fog descending

names are invisible pots

into grand sewers

remind those who have
only arrived

of the quiet
the armor is clattering

stacked like
glowing fungi

under darkened palms

the long             the winter sky

of indeterminate ends and fingers

of all your fingers stuffed inside of me like pigs

saying truffle and blame me and I'm ashamed


black stone

mother bent against daybreak's ram

and lingering under rafts of pigeons

doors invite arrows

where white horses march

there is no rider

Elagabalus (born Varius Avitus Bassianus), the sexually ambiguous ancestral head of a Syrian sun cult, ruled from 218–222.

These poems present a re-appropriation of Elagabalus's life and the text into which that life has been subsumed. Earnest Cary's translation of Cassius Dio's Roman History and Anthony Birley's translation of Suetonius's Lives of the Later Caesars provided material for many of these poems. The facts of Elagabalus's reign are unclear. Roman historians largely falsified materials as part of a propaganda campaign. Time and mendacity create a kind of material silence, like spaces before and after a question: a convex or diabolical quiet.