In Year One, the month of Vintage, time began.
Fog hovered above the earth, like an emanation
Of spirits underground. The scents of rose water
Sprinkled on sawdust, bird lime, blood, and fungus
Commingled in the air, like a chimera
Exhaled from broken mouths. The word Virtue
Rumbled above the roar of distant cannon
Like muffled drums, drowning our lamentations.
Nude women promenaded down the streets
As the Marquis de Sade stepped blearily from prison
To raucous cheers. On crumbling balustrades
We fired guns and wept like communicants.
“Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains,”
Declared Rousseau. To break the Social Contract
And signify a city stripped of saints,
The twelve months were reborn, the weeks transfigured
To decades of ten days. Without a Sabbath
To toll the bells, a shining new Republic
Of Virtue was proclaimed. De-christened streets
Wore names of heroes. One Easter Sunday morning,
De Sade lured a young beggar named Rose Keller
To his chateau and bound her there in chains,
Enacting scenes he'd first composed in prison
In Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue,
Till, slipping her restraints, the girl escaped.
“Revolutions, my friend, are not made out of rose water,”
Cried Danton, as The Committee of Public Safety
Sent spies among the crowd to sniff complaints.
Addressing fellow citizens as “Ladies”
Could lead to steps where other traps were sprung
And heads sent rolling. “If virtue be the spring
Of government in peace,” roared Robespierre,
“The spring of government in revolution
Is virtue joined with terror.” In Thermidor,
The month of Heat, his words rolled to their term
Among piled corpses. Women doused the ground
With rose water, as choirs of children cheered,
Rags pressed against their mouths to blunt the odor.
For “Terror is only justice, prompt, severe
And inflexible; it is then an emanation
Of virtue.” On the streets renamed for saints
Of the Revolution, we celebrate Feast Days
Named Virtue, Genius, Labor, Payments, Reason.
From Fog to Fruit, we watch the months revolve
To Thermidor again. We watch our tongues
And sniff the air for portents. In strange seasons,
Counting our numbered days. Thinking If the spring
Of government in peace be virtue, terror
Lurks at the crossroads, smiling, suave, severe.
An aging libertine, extending terms
To beggar girls. Exacting in return
For martyred flesh, the spirit's liberation.
In Declarations born of blood and tears.