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 swords and busty, corseted
women in blue or black ink. Sum, es, est: I am, you are, she is.
Sumus, we are chanting the verb of being over and over
while the hot autumn sun poured in and our teacher,
the old man, marched the aisles with a long pointing stick.
And I chanted too, I am, you are, he is –
in that big, old school building without knowing
that somewhere across the valley, my father
was marching through the rituals of diagnosis:
the MRI machine, the CAT scan, the blood draw,
listening quietly while all the doctors talked.
I chanted he is, we are, they are while he learned
about the tumors, 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 pencil-carved graffiti on my desk.
Sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt -
the marching song. We are, we are, he is
beautiful William. Est, he is an old man with a stick,
est, she is a woman helping her husband
to walk down white hallways, to get in
and out of bed. Est, she is a nurse we will come
to love. 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.
Amy Ratto Parks is the author of Bread and Water Body, the winner of the Merriam Frontier Chapbook Prize, Song of Days, Torn and Mended, and the verse novel, Radial Bloom. She teaches writing at the University of Montana.
How To Remember the World
is an 84 page hand-stitched paperbook with spine - $16.00