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Juliana Gray

Birds of the Late Roman Empire

Felis Sapiens

Birds of the Late Roman Empire

At Circus Maximus, where chariots raced
and gladiators slaughtered elephants
for Pompey’s pleasure, Roman citizens
in designer sunglasses, all in black,
walk dogs in matching jackets.  Unleashed, they chase
bright tennis balls across the sand,
while green parakeets heckle and gossip,
sweeping the sky between umbrella pines.

Hooded crows step lightly, like burglars,
across apartment terra cotta roofs.
Through careless kitchen windows, they pilfer hunks
of bread, Spanish anchovies from bright tins.

“Do good and do not mind the others’ talk,”
advises the Fontana della Terrina,
the broad tureen beside the flower sellers
at Campo di’ Fiori.  Gaudy booths
have replaced the gallows, shilling
colored pasta, pashminas made in China,
limoncello glowing like antifreeze
in boot-shaped bottles.  Giordano Bruno, burned
alive for heresy, stares from his plinth.
In a tent selling truffled olive oil,
a sparrow lights on the edge of a bowl, pecks
at free crackers, saving all its money.

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Felis Sapiens

“Oscar the cat . . . is believed to have predicted the deaths of 100 people at a nursing home. Staff and doctors at the Rhode Island centre are baffled by Oscar’s natural ability to seek out the dying and offer them much-needed comfort and support.” -- The Mirror, March 2015

The nursing home cat knows which patients are next
to die.  He slips into their numbered rooms

where nurses find him napping, his dapper paws
kneading biscuits on prickly blankets. They call

the next of kin to say their last goodbyes. 
The nursing home cat knows when it’s going to rain.

The nursing home cat knows whether Gulf oysters
are safe, and who will win the Superbowl. 

The nursing home cat knows who shot JFK. 
(You’d be surprised.) The nursing home cat

knows the spot where Amelia Earhart’s plane
cartwheeled into the sea, knows the name

of the pirate ship that sacked the Mary Celeste,
knows the Douglas fir where tattered shreds

of D. B. Cooper’s parachute still flutter
over scattered bones and dollar bills.

The nursing home cat knows chicken or egg,
heads or tails, the lady or the tiger.

He knows you, too, your breath, your restless dreams.
Light as silk, he jumps into your bed.

Juliana Gray’s third poetry collection, Honeymoon Palsy, was published by Measure Press in 2017. Recent poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from The Chattahoochee Review, Dunes Review, NELLE, and elsewhere. An Alabama native, she lives in western New York and teaches at Alfred University.

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