“History,” It Repeated

In Egypt’s sand they dug
until they heard the thunk
of their shovels running up against
an extraordinary chunk
of broken stone upon which
these uniformed Napoleonic fellas
could recognize some scratches
in the language of ancient Hellas.

Little did they know
this monolithic obstruction
would one day prove to be more
than a snag in the construction
of yet another monument
to the power of its Empire,
whose shelf life, as did Greece’s,
was inevitably due to expire.

But the story of the stone
these Gallic soldiers uncovered,
was how some scholars took it
and in turn discovered,
translating through two tongues.
how to read the symbols found
carved in forgotten ruins
beneath the Pharaohs’ arid ground.

In retrospect it figures,
the stone now called Rosetta
only commemorated the fifth Ptolemy
on something more than cabretta.
On it he carved narcissistic praise
for himself and (of course) no others,
and then announced nice tax breaks
for supportive big-shot brothers.

I bring this up on the anniversary
of the day those soldiers found it,
and can only think of how like now
we see connections all around it.
How so many self-absorbed leaders
will slap their own backs, yack and fritter,
not celebrating all their people,
just themselves, on stone or Twitter.

So if there’s a moral in all this,
I don’t suppose it’s any mystery,
take care what you share in the public square
if you don’t want it to become history.
It all could come back to bite your ass,
even if you’re just talking to your peeps,
‘cause just like in Egypt’s shifting sands
what’s embedded online is for keeps.

Not sure this poem about the discovery of the Rosetta Stone 220 years ago yesterday, and it’s message, needs that final verse. But I think it’s good advice for any political leader…and poet…nonetheless.

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