Monday, December 15, 2008

Poem Three in the Twelve Poems of Christmas

Latin Lessons

The daughter of the local florist taught
us Latin in the seventh grade. We sat
like hothouse flowers nodding in a mist
of conjugations, declining nouns that
made little sense and adjectives that missed
the point. She was elegant, shapely, taut.
She was dazzling and classic, a perfect
example to us of such absolute
adjectives as unique or ideal or perfect.
The room held light. Suffering from acute
puberty, we could still learn case by case
to translate with her from the ancient tongue
by looking past her body to the chaste
scribblings she left on the board. We were young
but knew that the ablative absolute
was not the last word in being a part
of something while feeling ourselves apart
from everything that mattered most. We chased
each other on the ballfield after class
though it did no good. What we caught was not
what we were after, no matter how fast
we ran. She first got sick in early fall.
A change in her voice, a flicker of pain
across her face, and nothing was the same.
She came back to us pale and more slender
than ever, a phantom orchid in strong
wind, correcting our pronoun and gender
agreement, verb tense, going over all
we had forgotten while she was gone. Long
before she left for good in early spring,
she made sure the dead language would remain
alive inside us like a buried spring.

by Floyd Skloot
from The End of Dreams. © Louisiana State University Press.
courtesy of The Writer's Almanac

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