Saving the Roman Empire (Poetry)

When I’m standing on the bus
Or sitting on the train on my way to work,
I either work on that novel I wrote in May,
Or I lose myself in my usual daydreams,
Which have a theme in common:
I either save a person from their brokenness,
Or I return in time to fix some horrible disaster
(Which involves someone’s death,
Or a vast empire having fallen before its time)

Since I finished reading my favorite manga,
Inio Asano’s ‘Oyasumi Punpun’,
Almost every night I lost myself in a daydream
In which that story played out differently;
The main character wasn’t so disturbed,
And he didn’t run away from those needing help
(I can’t be more specific about that daydream,
Because it would involve massive spoilers)

However, ever since I wrote my latest novel,
Those soothing nightly daydreams
Turned into me visiting my fictional girlfriend
(Which I made up entirely in my mind,
And who incorporated my own depression)
To fall asleep to a secure, loving relationship
That all my real ones failed to be

(I met her after she visited me at random times,
As if she’d been summoned by my calling,
On trains and buses and escalators;
She walked right over to me, hand extended,
But beneath this mild happy smile
Was the sadness of the world coming for me)

I’ve wanted to write about a superhero
Who can go back in time to save dead people,
And stops time before those people die,
Then disappears while remaining anonymous

This fictional alter ego of mine reappears
In my daydreams when someone of note dies,
Or at least someone whose death bothers me
(Like random pedestrians getting obliterated
In YouTube compilations of car accidents;
I’m not sure how come YouTube allows
Videos of people getting hit by cars and trucks,
But I was the kind of kid who searched for gore
In obscure websites from the early 2000s,
Because I’m attracted to death and mayhem)

My alternate selves sometimes appear as well
In periods of history when they are needed most;
I daydream of a team of time travellers
Who are scholars studying alternate timelines
To correct some of the worst disasters in history,
Or else to discover what would happen instead

I consider that Western civilization died with Rome,
And that we have been inhabiting a corpse since then,
One where the values it should embody do not exist;
I daydream of visiting the Roman senate
During the reign of the great Marcus Aurelius
(The last emperor of the Pax Romana,
Before the empire devolved into utter craziness)

The team of time travellers comes down
To introduce themselves to the baffled senate,
And after the team presents the world globe
(I wonder how the Romans would have dealt
With the discovery of a whole new continent),
The time travellers focus on solving the issue
Of the many invaders along the long borders
Of the overexpanded Roman Empire:
I’d introduce the MG 34 machine gun
By training a couple of legionaries
On how to obliterate Iron Age armies

Afterwards I’d give them the schematics
And elaborate on how to develop the industries
That would produce both the machine guns
And the large quantities of bullets necessary
For a full century war against invading hordes;
That would take care of the Sassanid Empire
As well as the many tribes of barbarians:
The Huns, the Vandals, the Visigoths, etc.

(In another mission, the time travellers
Visited a depressed China after years of famine,
And after the team saved them, it disappeared
And became a part of Chinese mythology)

I would introduce the Romans to electricity:
How to build batteries and power plants,
And the myriad of devices they could make;
That would segue into telegraphs,
And how to wire their entire empire
So the news would travel very quickly;
Instead of having to send letters by horse,
The info would come through wires of copper

These major advancements would be enough
To physically save my esteemed empire,
But their minds would still be at risk
From alien ideologies from the Middle East:
They would be wary of monotheistic religions,
Whose mobs would have otherwise destroyed
The temples and libraries filled with wisdom
That would have been lost forever

(When I visited the cathedral in Oviedo,
The history lessons went on cheerfully
About how the saints had been canonized
For their tireless efforts to root out paganism,
Which ended up plunging this part of the world
Into about 1,500 years of superstitious darkness;
The Romans, despite their own superstitions,
Were about to invent the Industrial Revolution,
Their medical science remained unbeaten,
And many of their majestic buildings still stand)

I wanted to state that I love the Roman Empire,
That it should have endured to this day,
With its badass legions, its universal language,
Its philosophers, its architecture, its arts,
And mainly their glorious men and women
Who transformed humanity from barbarism
To a civilization that stood strong for a millennia

(I wish for the Roman Empire to return
Whenever I go outside and look around)

Anyway, like there’s that isekai genre in Japan,
I wish there was a genre about time travellers
Who just went to the past and changed stuff
And left everything in peace afterwards,
But stories need a significant amount of conflict
To raise from the level of mere anecdotes
(That’s the problem with daydreams:
They are about feeling good, correcting wrongs,
But the stories that work are about challenges)

I have always relied on daydreaming
To escape from this unpleasant reality
And having to inhabit this broken body;
I guess it’s the poor man’s version of VR
(Although I played Skyrim in VR yesterday)

My point is that if I had a superpower,
I’d either be invisible or a time traveller,
So I could go back in time and save people
(And possibly entire empires)
From their unfair deaths or collapses,
And after everything returned to normal,
I would be happy to have done some good
Instead of spending my time writing shit
Like the poem you’ve just read

‘Saving the Roman Empire’ by Jon Ureña

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