Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
30 June 2021updated 08 Sep 2021 3:28pm

The NS Poem: Account

A new poem by Josephine Balmer.

By Josephine Balmer

Writing tablet, Walbrook, London, 81 CE

Supplied to Crispus’s tavern:
Beer, 5 denarii [1000 pints] 7 denarii [1400 pints]

Night after night we had the thankless task
of keeping the city watered. As soon
as one emptied we’d fill another cask
until our streets brimmed with swaying legions
waiting on their orders (by all reports
our rash new governor, that ambitious
arsewipe Agricola, would soon march north).

I didn’t blame them. As a veteran
I knew those roads, the rigid, bone-strewn paths
that level worlds while names, careers, are built.
And this was Caledonia: dark, unmapped,
uncrossed, its tarns as deep as hidden guilt,
its forests trembling like a long-planned trap.
Every drop they drained would soon be spilt.

Josephine Balmer is a poet, classical translator, research scholar and literary critic. This poem, which takes as its starting point a Roman writing tablet recently discovered in the City of London, is part of a new project entitled “Ghost Passage”.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

THANK YOU

[See also: The NS Poem: caries]

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up