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Wearing a toga and a laurel wreath,
The neighbor’s boy is Caesar for the day.
Beside the family car, he bows beneath
The burden of enacting Shakespeare’s play
And strolls, hands clasped behind him, to and fro,
Pondering at fifteen his overthrow.

He’s sought out my advice in this endeavor
And beckons me. I warn him, as a friend,
“Beware the Ides of March.” He shrugs, “Whatever,”
A noble Roman stoic to the end,
Though vexed by the conspirators’ designs
And by an Antony who flubs his lines.

This year, the wildfires have come early; smoke
Hangs greyly eastward over Hollywood.
The acrid, carbonaceous clouds provoke
Thoughts that our nation’s health is not so good.
The boy himself is learning how states veer
Off course when they succumb to greed and fear.

But now his mother hurries from their house
And down the walk. He snaps at her, “We’re late!”
She rolls her eyes at me as one who knows
Too well the cruel impatience of the great:
They come, they see, they conquer, they misrule,
And then demand you chauffeur them to school.
I could ask Caesar where his manners are,
But he seems too preoccupied to beg
For pardon as he slides into the car.
He looks bleak when I tell him, “Break a leg”:
They’ll just be acting, yet as we’ve discussed,
It’s creepy to be killed by those you trust.

His toga catches in his shutting door.
He scolds and extricates the trailing pleat,
Then nods in readiness; the car in gear,
He and his mother sweep off up the street.
However much has altered since the days
When I took part in high-school skits and plays,
The world still offers its bewildering mix
Of good and evil, and we still engage
Issues of friendship and of politics,
Exploring them in books or on a stage
In hopes the trials of others, being known,
Will help us meet and understand our own.

I hope my young friend triumphs on the boards
And hope his generation won’t rehearse
A past that has prized ploughshares less than swords.
Meanwhile, though, no propitious winds disperse
The ashy, heavily smoke-curtained sky
Through which the sun glares like a bloodshot eye.