Poems / February 21, 2024

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Matthew Tuckner

The day they ask if you’d rather
be burned or buried,

the president crashes
his bike into a sand dune.

Sitting in the long waiting room
between seconds, I notice you,

made god-like by your pain,
wrapping the world around your finger,

pushing the cursor forward & back,
pausing for glints of detail

in the periphery of the shaky video:
the spokes of the wheels drenched

in the reflection of the whitecaps
slapping the shore in the distance,

the surprised look of the man
collapsed on his side, useless

as a bouquet of lilies
sagging next to a hospital bed,

fallen before he ever had the chance
to learn he was falling.

It comforts you, how in a time
before all this history,

something brutal & long gone
like a sabertooth tiger

is slowly licking its cub
into a deep, peaceful sleep.

Down the hall in the children’s ward,
we watch as a little boy draws

thick lines on a toy horse
with a sharpie, inventing the zebra.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Matthew Tuckner

Matthew Tuckner's debut collection of poems, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in fall 2025.

More from The Nation

From “Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery to Reconstruction,” Aaron Douglas (1934).

The Cosmopolitan Modernism of the Harlem Renaissance The Cosmopolitan Modernism of the Harlem Renaissance

A new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art explores the world-spanning art of the Harlem Renaissance.

Books & the Arts / Rachel Hunter Himes

Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage

Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage

An interview with Gillian Slovo, whose new play about the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in London just opened in New York.

Feature / D.D. Guttenplan

Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart.

Blood, Guts, and Queer Bodybuilders Blood, Guts, and Queer Bodybuilders

The Kristen Stewart–helmed erotic thriller Love Lies Bleeding filters a study of sex, violence, and the limits of human will through a romance that begins in a New Mexico gym.

Books & the Arts / Beatrice Loayza

Heinrich Himmler inspecting the Galicia Division in May 1944. Otto Wächter is in the background.

Why Is the American Library Association Whitewashing the History of Ukrainian Nazis? Why Is the American Library Association Whitewashing the History of Ukrainian Nazis?

In honoring a book depicting Ukrainian volunteers in the Waffen SS as heroes and patriots, the group reveals historical ignorance—or indifference to antisemitism.

Lev Golinkin

Lauren Oyler and the Critic in the Internet Age

Lauren Oyler and the Critic in the Internet Age Lauren Oyler and the Critic in the Internet Age

In No Judgment, the novelist and critic explores the perilous activity of literary criticism in the era of social media.

Books & the Arts / Alana Pockros

Kid Cudi in Las Vegas, 2024.

The Many Evolutions of Kid Cudi The Many Evolutions of Kid Cudi

In Insano, the rapper and hip-hop artist comes back down to earth.

Books & the Arts / Bijan Stephen