Caesar’s Last Breath
—Enrico Fermi (1901-1954)

On the Ides of March, great Caesar stabbed to death
by friends, expelled his final breath
in exclamation, an accusation I’m forced to share
by Fermi’s calculation each time I respire in joy or despair
an atom of the cry my Mother gave in giving me birth
or later, my Father’s shout at exchanging the earth
beneath our feet, from blooded Old World to New.

What holds the star-winged atoms of our bones but the glue
of universal speech, the pneuma of life?
Each day exchanges the oxygen of kings with child and wife,
the lips of long gone fiends exclaim with those in doubt
or pray in unison with the most devout.

Less a calculus of breath than perverted fate
how often we exhale love and fill our lungs with hate.

Michael Salcman's picture

Michael Salcman (born 1946) is an American poet and physician who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. His poetical work is infused and vivified by his medical profession, his love of and expertise in contemporary art, and by the fact that his parents were Holocaust survivors. His work is characterized by a lushness of diction, a strong moral focus, and a sense of playful imagery.

Last updated September 16, 2011