archives winter 2009



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 is a physician, brain scientist, and essayist on the visual arts. He has been chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. Recent poems appear in Alaska Quarterly Review, New Letters, Ontario Review, Harvard Review, Raritan, Notre Dame Review, and New York Quarterly. His work has been heard on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Euphoria, a documentary on the brain and creativity (2005). His first collection, The Clock Made of Confetti (Orchises Press), and fourth chapbook, Stones In Our Pockets (Parallel Press) were published in 2007.