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Alberta Clipper: 03/15/16: “Horror Story” by Agnes Lam

Camuccini's painting "The Death of Ceasar" (1798)

“Beware, beware, the Ides of March.”

Famously dramatized by William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, these are the words that were declared to Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. The Ides of March was the first full moon of the new year according to the Roman calendar, and though Julius Caesar was warned of his fate, he refused to pay heed. Historians have denied for decades that these words were spoken to Caesar, instead favoring the theory that Shakespeare’s play influenced the world to romanticize the brutish murder of a man by his colleagues who sought to save Rome from his tyrannical rule.

According to most historians, the soothsayer who predicted the terrible day never existed, and the sixty or so members of the Senate who tore Caesar apart were not welcomed as heroes by the newly-declared Roman Empire, because they never sought to save its people in the first place. They wanted to take Caesar’s power for themselves, not give it back to the citizens. The majority of those who have studied the Ides refute the theory that Caesar did not fight; he was a soldier after all, and would not be the kind of man to cover his face and accept his fate. Caesar’s famous last lines—“Et tu, Brute?”, meaning “And you, Brutus?” were never uttered from the dying dictator’s lips, though the phrase penned by Shakespeare hundreds of years later may be the most notorious and heartbreaking response to a betrayal that history has ever seen.

History, in the end, however, is written by a biased hand. Perhaps Julius Caesar was not murdered in a cavernous room underneath the full moon, and maybe the legendary soldier, leader, and dictator didn’t accept his death without putting up a fight. It is likely that the soothsayer—identified by Roman historian Suetonius as a priest named Spurrina—never even met Caesar, much less warned him of his inevitable fate.

There is, however, at least one aspect of the Ides of March that historians and romantics alike can agree on: Brutus, once a close friend and ally of the great king, was ultimately responsible for the sudden and violent demise of Julius Caesar. Joined by the Senate and motivated by a thirst for power, Brutus did not hesitate to tear Julius apart in what would be considered the betrayal of several millennia.

Fast forward approximately 2,057 years, to the Spring of 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska, when Prairie Schooner was readying the summer issue in which Agnes Lam’s poem “Horror Story” would appear. During the Spring of 2013, March 15 saw weather as dismal as ever, without any military coups being staged in this sleepy city to keep things exciting (thank goodness). While the Ides of March in 44 BC saw a full moon under a clear night, Nebraska in 2013 saw only a “waxing gibbous” in dreary 48-degree weather, a quiet juxtaposition to the bloody night that gave the Ides of March its infamy. In “Horror Story,” by Agnes Lam, the author examines the betrayal of a friend, which echoes the ultimate treachery seen between Brutus and Julius on the notorious Ides of March. Using the juxtaposition of a young girl whose pet snake is preparing to swallow her whole and a woman whose seemingly perfect husband shows no regret for forsaking their marriage, Lam explores two different kinds of betrayal—the kind that you expect, and the kind that you don’t. —Callista Accardi

 

Agnes Lam

Horror Story

My niece’s classmate kept a pet
snake coiled next to her in bed.

One night, the girl found the snake
stretched out straight along her side.

She thought it was sick and took it
to a vet who said, “It’s not ill.

It’s trying to measure when it’s
long enough to swallow you up.”

*

My friend married the man of her dreams—
handsome, romantic, a home of his own.

One year into their marriage, she found
him with another woman in their bed.

Before the counsellor, the man said,
“It’s what I am. Didn’t mean to hurt you.”

One night, my friend woke up and saw
the man curled up, breathing in his sleep.

*

She walked away without a sound.

21 January 2011, Hong Kong Jockey Club
 

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 87, No. 2 (Winter 2013)


The Alberta Clipper is a biweekly gust of history—brushing the dust off of a poem from our archives and situating it in the current events and local Nebraskan weather reports of days gone by. Explore the Alberta Clipper archives here.