A powerful poem from Jessica Server on the wages of imperialism, many of which we’re still encountering in the “post-colonial” world.
How to Build an Empire
First, you must believe you are greater
than the sum of your parts. Plant grain.
Replace dirt with wood, wood with stone.
Employ slaves—their sweat the nearness of oceans.
Collect water in cisterns and defend them with honor.
Sell Diana’s statue in the agora until you rename her.
Teach your language to ensure understanding.
Leave out certain words. Build slowly and with patience.
Fight a war you believe in, many. Call yourself Roman,
so far from home. Keep women in houses of cold stone.
Borrow money to build the temple. Then lay the dead
in sarcophagi that devour the flesh, at rest with their jewels.
Let the deaths of others be your pure entertainment.
Ignore your own. Sit all day in windowless tombs.
Call it work. Eventually you will be hungry
Surround yourself with jewels. Avoid the dead. Borrow money
to repay your debts. Destroy the temples; replace them
with rows of identical houses. Rape your women. Call them
emotional. The word is a sarcophagus. Fight a war—
many. Don’t believe in anything. Teach your language
to inseminate the globe. Hire farmhands, a word
to brand slaves. Call them day laborers. Forget that word,
labor, was once sacred. Let their sweat water your strawberries.
Replace the dirt with wood, wood with stone,
stone with glass, glass with plastic. You are a god.
Greater than the sum of your parts, lining the central
prairies in row after row of seamless, plump corn. Golden.
Editor’s Note: Jessica Server has published with us before. Read her incredible “Learning to Foxtrot.”
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Photo by Godoirum Bassanensis /Flickr