Edited and introduced by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc

This week’s poem offers a brief coming-of-age story by way of Latin grammar. Would that all our grammar led us out into the world, with possibility, as happens here.

If you have forgotten your days studying Latin, or avoided them altogether, stay with this poem. It is, after all, an invitation. Don’t worry if you can’t remember what an ablative case is or an optative mood – you can look those up if you feel like it. Read this small collection of sentences out loud a couple of times. Notice the emphatic line breaks at the end of the second stanza:

“the absolute adequacy
of her imperative

voice.”

The poem is by Jeri Theriault, herself a longtime English teacher, from her most recent book, “RADOST, MY RED,” published in 2016 by Moon Pie Press.

Invitation

By Jeri Theriault

 

In her patched sweater

and pastel hair, Mrs. Warren startled me

with the perfection of classical Latin.

Like my classmates, I called her Pinky

and snickered at her irregular

imperatives: duc, dic, fac.

 

She snared me anyway

with Ovid and Virgil.

Pinky taught the absolutes, so

certain, so neat in their ablative

brevity – “bellō gessō,”

the war having been waged,

“acriter a Romanīs fortis,”

fiercely by the bold Romans –

so like my mother,

who never once doubted

the absolute adequacy

of her imperative

 

voice. But I liked

conditionals best, and optatives –

if only, if only – verbs stacked precisely

yet opening realms I’d never

envisioned. Siena. Napoli.

Roma. The subjunctive,

Mrs. Warren said, invites

possibility. What if, I asked

for the first time, imagining

a future that led

like the ancient roads

of veined Italia

to the world beyond.

 

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. DEEP WATER: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2016 Jeri Theriault. It appears here by permission of the author.