The Great Sacrifice of the Romans on Undertaking a War

Karen Skolfield
Photo by Monceau

after the engraving in A Dictionary of All Religions, 1753

Not to be dismissive, but the Romans 
aren’t sacrificing much. 
A pig, a ram, some flasks of wine, 
one guy’s holding what might be a pie 
but it’s token more than tribute. 
The scene: festive and homoerotic 
with bare-chested men twirling axes 
so butch they count double. Ankle bracelets, 
strappy sandals, well-muscled legs. 
Of course this is before the war, 
bench-pressing babes contemplating a win.
Even the giving feels good, the extra ox
feeding luscious men like themselves. 
Someone’s pulled out a curvy instrument 
and is blowing that thing. Two others 
raise the long horns to their lips. 
The music so upbeat a conga line 
of animals is posing hooves and shanks 
and the men dig it, banners in the distance, 
a little antebellum bump and grind. 
No women, no surprise: no joie de la guerre 
from the ladies, and besides their sons, 
what would the women have to give? 
In poems I count the years until my son 
registers for the draft. I know him: 
He’ll boogie to the post office, sign his card. 
He’s down to six years, a number which, 
in Roman numerals, looks like one 
not-quite man beside the V for victory.

Karen Skolfield’s book Frost in the Low Areas (Zone 3 Press) won the 2014 PEN/New England Award in poetry. Her new poems appear in BoulevardThe Carolina Quarterly, Crazyhorse, GuernicaSlice, and elsewhere. She is an Army veteran who teaches writing to engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.