Witness the dormant glory of Romulus Augustus,
arguably the last Western Roman emperor, taking
a nap on an army-surplus cot in the back of the lab.
They had pulled him screaming through the tesseract
almost entirely just before the translucent gyre retracted,
snipping off part of his left big toe, just past the joint.
Some of the research team cleaned and dressed his injury,
white coats, jumbled apologies, bloody water, stitches,
while the rest cheered and gave one another high-fives.
In the context of the community of physical scientists,
trans-temporal engineering would be the new black,
though black itself remains perennially cool, man.
They sent out for meaty pizzas and scholars of antiquity,
hungry to learn whom they had blindly snagged with
their half-imaginary quark-knotting fishing net.
The historically-usurped teenager cried out for Orestes,
Jesus, Jupiter, Fortuna, whichever relative, small god
or saint looks after lost toe pieces, many deaf, dead ears,
and then he wept as regally as he could manage, sobbing
quietly, snot majestically trickling down his upper lip,
while wincing at the pain. Was pain the ticket to Heaven?
One of the kinder-seeming physicists brought a wheelchair,
helped him hobble into it, still proud, teary and bewildered,
loaded him into the antiseptic hyperbaric chamber for testing.
Weeks passed and needles happened. Interviews piled up
around him like sofa cushions stuffed with dictionaries,
a fort of inquisitive words. Quid? Quis? Ubi? Cur, o cur?
He explained the best he could the political landscape,
the smell of Odoacer’s horsemen and the pity that led to
a life uncurtailed and a post-abdication villa in Campania.
He told them garum tasted most like Filipino patis, more so
than nuoc mam or Chinese fish paste. He liked ice cream,
MMA matches, posters with kittens, and American Idol.
He once became enraged and defensive when they laughed
at him for rubbing vanilla Haagen-Dazs on his toe wound –
“Is that Roman folk medicine, ‘Roam-oo-leh’?” Bastards!
Fine! You get dragged to twenty-first-century Livermore!
It’s confusing! The ice cream helps, all aches subsiding.
They wouldn’t give him a concubine, so he had made do.
Months accumulated, and the team that had harvested him
moved on to more lucrative gigs in the private sector. The last
once-emperor stayed behind, watching the funding dry up.
Enthroned at fourteen and now, at nineteen or 1,549, last year’s
science-fair project, still walking and talking funny. No more
royal allowance, worse spaghetti in the cafeteria, strangers.
Watch him fret in his Boy Scout sleeping bag, dreaming
of Italy and cyclotrons, restless, feeling like an unlucky coin
flipped in the air between someone else’s finger and thumb.