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.

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