Montana Poets Series #3

     Craig Czury, Editor

From the book:

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 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

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The World

Amy Ratto Parks