27 April 2016

Sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt -- the marching song

                                                by Amy Ratto Parks

Verb of Being

In 7th period Latin we learned the verb to be by chanting
sum, es  est, sumus, estis, sunt over and over.
I am, you are, he is. Beautiful William sat next to me
and forward one, and his blond hair fell into his eyes

while he drew busty, corseted women in black ink.  Sum, es, est:
I am, you are, she is. Sumus, we are chanting the verb
of being over and over while our teacher, the old man, marched
the aisles. And I chanted too, I am, you are, he is –

in that big, old school building without knowing that across
the valley, my father was marching through the rituals
of diagnosis: the MRI machine, the blood draw, listening
while all the doctors talked. I chanted he is, we are, they are

while he learned about his blood, boiling with virus. I watched
beautiful William toss his blond hair in the sun, and I absentmindedly
traced the outlines of the graffiti on my desk. Sum, es, est,
sumus, estis, sunt – the marching song. I am, we are, he is

beautiful William. Est, he is an old man with a stick. Sum, I am twelve.
I am a daughter, still, of a father for eleven months more.
Sunt, they are misdiagnosing. Est, he is trusting. Est, he is afraid.
Sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt, the old man marches in my dreams,

marches his language song from room 317, from September of 1988
forward through the dusty tables of the kitchens and bedrooms,
offices and libraries of my life. Through all those years teaching us
in the present tense, our first lesson: to be, to be, to be.

Winner of the 2016 Phi Beta Kappa Arts & Sciences Poetry Contest.

17 April 2016

When you played the records with needles

                                   by W. S. Merwin

Antique Sound

There was an age when you played the records
with ordinary steel needles which grew blunt
and damaged the grooves or with more expensive
stylus tips said to be tungsten or diamond
which wore down the records and the music receded
but a friend and I had it on persuasive authority
that the best thing was a dry thorn of the right kind
and I knew where to find one of those off to the left
of the Kingston Pike in the shallow swale
that once had been forest and had grown back
into a scrubby wilderness alive with
an earthly choir of crickets blackbirds finches
crows jays the breathing of voles raccoons
rabbits foxes the breeze in the thickets
the thorn bushes humming a high polyphony
all long gone since to improvement but while
that fine dissonance was in tune we rode out
on bicycles to break off dry thorn branches
picking the thorns and we took back the harvest
and listened to Beethoven’s Rassoumoffsky
Quartets echoed from the end of a thorn.

10 April 2016

The lily, the rose, the rose I lay


The Bridal Morn  

The maidens came
 When I was in my mother's bower;
I had all that I would.
 The bailey beareth the bell away;
 The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.
The silver is white, red is the gold:
The robes they lay in fold.
 The bailey beareth the bell away;
 The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.
And through the glass window shines the sun.
How should I love, and I so young?
 The bailey beareth the bell away;
 The lily, the rose, the rose I lay. 

15th-16th C, British Museum MS Harley 7578.