Back to Issue Forty-Four

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire


Near the end of his life, the artist painted six coffins
egg-shell white, filling them with the cadavers

of diseased sea stars found in tidepools
along the coast of San Luis Obispo.

When we enter the gallery, you spill the contents
of your tote bag into a metal tray: camera lens, pill organizer,

a fragment of orange rind shaped like Florida,
a bottle of smartwater, dyed gold with powdered electrolytes.

We know what’s coming. We’ve been texting back and forth
famous last words as a way of making light of it,

a record of the mind speaking to the mind in dulcet tones,
reminding the mind it is still here, for now.

Heraclitus: Can you turn wet water into dry?
Caligula: I am still very much alive.

It appears that what will happen, hasn’t happened yet.
So we fill the time with projects, Tokyo, memories

of its greedy koi fish, a ceramic bowl
of goji berries perfectly balanced on a tree branch.

We fatten the time until it bursts into artifacts:
sixteen photographs of a single puddle

taking shape in the red glow of your darkroom.
A puddle you glimpsed the moon in, & stopped for.

A puddle that was just plain rain until it fell.


The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire



Tate Modern

Inside the museum,
a distraction from grief,

an Alpine ibex built from the splintered
legs of a wooden chair.

Outside the museum, a patch of roses,
lab-conjured purples & oranges,

the overhead buzz
of a drone designed

to vibrate like a cicada
as it records.

It would very much like it
if I made a scene.


Debt is the only spoken language.
Men in pitch-black suits

whisper nearby, predicting the future
volatility of the Japanese Yen.

They will stretch their lunch hour
until it breaks,

stopping here & there to take
each other’s picture

with the Giacometti sculpture
of a starving dog,

waving at the camera
through the hole in its stomach.


In the Infinity Mirror Room, we find ourselves
multiplied, sieved through with light,

pre-verbal & formless, slathered
in a galaxy of microplastic stars.

God, inch by inch,
is losing its purpose.

No noun could hold all of this endless space,
but we will speak until we capture it.

In thirty minutes, the bankers will return
to the trading floor, & I will go bury a friend.

If you look closely, you can even see
the future from here.


Matthew Tuckner is a writer from New York. He is currently an MFA candidate in creative writing at NYU, where he was poetry editor of Washington Square Review and taught in the undergraduate writing program. He is the recipient of a University Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the winner of the 2022 Yellowwood Poetry Prize, selected by Paige Lewis. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, 32 Poems, Copper Nickel, The Colorado Review, Pleiades, West Branch, The Cincinnati Review, Southeast Review, The Missouri Review, and Bennington Review, among others.

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