Diocletian In Retirement: A Prose Poem

A prose poem after Zbigniew Herbert

A quaint perfection settles around the story of Diocletian in his retirement; he who had reluctantly persecuted dissidents at the behest of his counselors. He who had benignly consented to beheadings— he retires to a small villa and becomes a cabbage farmer. The cabbage! A weighty, head-sized and head-shaped vegetable. Dropping to his knees in the morning, Diocletian happily decapitates one from the ground, hefts it in his hand and thinks on the savory and pungent salad it shall become in the evening. But the wrinkles and folds in the leaves trick his eyes a moment, and he is barely aware of an apparition there— the face of the Baptist. A restless afternoon follows and at supper, the first bite descends through him like Christ into Hell.

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