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Latin Met the Anglo-Saxon

By Joseph Milosch

In Latin class we were bored.
In the hallways we’d say, Carl sed est.
We translated it loosely to mean Carl’s an ass.

We’d change phrases we were to memorize
from nil sine Numine
(nothing without Providence)
to nil sine nivibus
(nothing without snow).
We’d call new students
testibus torpidus
(numb nuts).

We thought the priests didn’t have a clue,
but our wit was our discovery of cliches
known since Latin mingled with the Anglo-Saxon.

It was tradition renewed through the ritual
of meditation and study. Forty years later,
a few phrases of nonsense are the remnants
of mornings when I walked under trees, reciting
conjugations and noticing nothing but shadows.

Language veiled the mystery of loss and gain
the same way women hinted at their hidden magic
when they danced in the halls of Chicago,
which we called Urbs Ventosa — the Windy City.

I remember how my eyes would glaze over
when I received an A on a translation
or when I received an unexpected glance
from a woman in a tight skirt. What happened
to the excitement at sighting a glimpse of the mystery?

Ubi tete occultabas! I call out, “Where have you been hiding?”
I can’t find you in the smell of the harvested hay
or coffee on a wintry morning. Entering the month
following the Harvest Moon, I walk Holy Jim Trail.
Sitting on a rock, I watch the wind herd clouds into a clover.
Above the distant ocean a stray cloud worms westward,
and the sun transforms the thin and opaque vapor
into orange and raw sienna. The air stops and seems
to wait for quail to burst from brush like faith.

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