The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Maryanne Hannan
What Latin Has that English Doesn't
Ablative absolutes with their no-nonsense
stage-setting: that being the case the best we can do
Respect for the passive verb evading
responsibility: pugnabatur, it was fought, and no one to grouse about it
The brilliant ubiquity of purpose and result
clauses: pax Romana while it lasted
With its handy-dandy moods, Latin can lie
without libel: o tempora! o mores! Cicero's case is won
Subjunctives willing to count, not prance around
as if it weren't true: Would you could be here
Passive periphrastics with their genteel
implication of duty, obligation and necessity: nunc est bibendum or maybe
you can't drink now because of your agenda
Desidero, not so
much about desire, but a vacuum of absence: sorry, untranslatable
Granted: We both have God the Father, homo
sapiens, patrimony, bellicose and we both like to shout, Veni, vidi,
My Other Grandmother
That's what I called her, although
only to myself. She believed in family,
what gets passed down. From her ancestors
she got a pair of china Dalmatian dogs,
My grandmother generated silence,
even around the dinner table.
Conversation with her was brief, pointed,
as nuanced as the mountain shadow spreading
over the lake's surface where each year
I'd spend a week at her summer cottage.
In the absence of my mother, whose speech
wove webs around me, I discovered
my own silence. My grandmother would sit,
staring at the lake, and I'd sit a few feet away
on the ground, watch ants feast on peonies,
or the "pineys" as she called them.
I'd wonder what I'd do if the supper silence
went on too long, if my spoon striking
the plate echoed until my throat closed.
I'd trace figure-eights on the ground,
know I could bury the scurrying ants
in streaming sand, never say a word.
I could get up, walk down to where
the men tied their rowboats after fishing,
wade in the lake without permission,
inhale the quiet: Could it really be like this?
Maybe we'd have dumplings for dinner.
My mother never made dumplings, big
delicious lumps slopping on the plate.
One August, coming to take me home,
my mother saw the bubbled brown spots
on my sun-poisoned shoulders, whispered:
You will never be the same.
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