Letter to a Lost Poem by Lucan

by Jake Sheff


Dear De Incendio Urbis,


A city burns; a civic storm; its former surface losing form.

A rainbow’s black and white interpretation from performances

of tongues: a ton of guesses; deadweight; formless Latin.

These overpopulated thoughts; we speak in lungs, in cinder;

mystics, you and I. And never asking why statistics

in disguise are often guides, I’ve got a feeling, is the feeling’s

fee. We speak in lunges, beaks, the evil ear; as you said:


“The way to hear is early, but my ears were late.”


You’re not the first to call out perfect terror:


“When terror itself is terrified and torn,

the stars relate.”


Stellar non-sequitur. Like you, I write mnemonics with a capital

  1. I spill my tears of milk in spirals, teaching spring

to come, as well. You’re not the first to mention how

the soldiers came and brought you fame. (When everything’s

destroyed except your name.) A civil flame; that’s more

eternal per our human laws of shame. Your stated aim:


“To forestall future horrors all forests honor…

To sing the veiled and leveled back.”


The heart: a country babies come from; fire’s second chance

to start or die. If only art was more reminder, less rejoinder!

That’s why today we have our sleepless steeples, not

to just have weepers weep and sweepers sweep remainders

off and out of sight. If jealousy was jail, we’d all be better

off. If only bad had limits, like intelligence! Submitting

summits to the fortune-telling scientist; the minarets and

mountains of the mind to fire! When in Rome,

you played the raven-witness; blood was read by you

as green or dew: “A Roman’s due,” you said; “Revolt!” And now

you’re dead. A city burns; a baby’s born; the day is old. I am

this moment but its breath is yours. A perfect loss.




A simian persimmon


Bio: Jake Sheff is a major and pediatrician in the US Air Force, married with a daughter and six pets. Currently home is the Mojave Desert. Poems of Jake’s are in or forthcoming from Radius, The Ekphrastic Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Cossack Review and elsewhere. He won 1st place in the 2017 SFPA speculative poetry contest and was a finalist in the Rondeau Roundup’s 2017 triolet contest. His chapbook is “Looting Versailles” (Alabaster Leaves Publishing).