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The Floralia was a five-day Roman celebration of Spring, during which the city of Rome was decorated with colorful banners and garlands of flowers. There were games, feasts and shows (both gladiatorial and erotic), as well as concerts, plays, and religious ceremonies. The titles of these poems are the Roman calendar dates that make up the five days of the Floralia. – A.L.


The Floralia Poems & Art by Amy Letter


ante diem II kalends mai Sun beats the clothes of the statues of Rome free of April moisture— as their billowing shadows fill with groups of gleaming priestesses— Citizens behold! Your heroes undressed! —by women so gold Caesar’s profile should be impressed into their heels. One senator sees conquerors —stone and flesh as history—in heated compromise: three virgins for each heartless man, three bodies smooth and dutiful remove robes, drape garlands, wash an old man’s shoulders and his feet. The senator turns home— like a lathered messenger with urgent, unexpected news: It is hot, he tells his wife, loosening her tunic. Even the cold and dead have shed their clothes.


pridie kalends mai It takes the boy three days to embrace the coming May— Winter left him conquered land salted and departed. He likens himself to the goose his mistress ate in Flora’s honor, whose bones spill from the dump beyond the orchard. The boy, feeling obliged to make his break clean, refused at last even water. The stubborn end crept on so slow, he wondered had they made some cruel mistake? Tragedy, his master said, does not strike the heart—swift mercy does not satisfy its lust. A kind apothecary presides over the victim, recording every new excruciation in detail. Revenge, his master said, is an expensive meal—I will eat it slowly. On the eve of kalends mai, the boy quakes, his heart attempts to pluck each note left in his song before the string breaks. Undiluted sunrise fills his window, saturates his eyes drowns him in its honeyed fire, echoes of her laughing.


kalends mai If it remains unplucked, a flower on a vine will bloat— its petals shrivel up and rot until it is consumed by the fruit that takes its place. Finally, it is a small black bitter spot, not unlike a navel, discarded once the fruit is eaten and enjoyed. But I want to be the vine! she sings, naked, painted red, humping another actress on a platter of a stage.


ante diem VI nonas mai The mob, vulgar, churning— its breath like rot, like the belly of a ship brought ashore to be torn to kindling after a lifetime at sea— perfumed—another breeze brings meadows instead of the must of bodies, flowers, instead of sweat and saliva— the air for a moment as clean as Caesar’s polished marble floors, then vile as vomitoria on a feast night. This beast made of many rises high around the stone lagoon, and calls out for the foreign captain’s life. He wonders do the voices call for mercy or for death? His eyes, driftwood hateful, squint past sun and smoke, and doubt the genius of the Roman people, who built a sea inside their city,


who set these men of war adrift where even Vestal Virgins may enjoy the sudden jerk of the catapult, a snapping neck, the high crack of clay pots exploding into flames. But that is Roman armor glinting through the water, a swell of tunic, hair like kelp—Yes, he was an enemy, whose ship burns for his body. Judgment comes quick to valor: a thumb raised up to a tent of sky.


ante diem V nonas mai One rose taken from a mound that rose from the ground like the swell of a sleeping child, rests beside the wash basin— beside where his mistress rises. She chose yellow, of all the colors of Spring, of all the garden and meadow flowers: one, thumb-size, half-open rose, yellow. When she wakes and washes her face clean of sleep, she feels like some dewy goddess, drying. She can imagine his flesh, pulled like a plum left too long in the sun around its pit. She can wish, with petals softening the ground beneath bare feet, she were dancing, not watching time curl the yellow petals crisp.


About the Artwork ante diem ii kalends mai: photography and photoshoppery by Amy Letter 2010 pridie kalends mai: in 2006 a bust was recovered from the ruins of Herculaneum whose paint was still intact; her face, however, was not. I attempted to recover what was once lost. News photograph. Photoshoppery by Amy Letter 2010 kalends mai: a Roman coin showing a man mounting a woman from behind is re-sexed into a woman-withwoman encounter. Sales photograph, photoshopped. Amy Letter 2010 ante diem v nonas mai: archeological site and yellow rose, internet images, reposed. Amy Letter 2010


Poems and art by Amy Letter, 2010 The Floralia originally appeared in Center, Volume 8, 2009. amyletter.com



The Floralia