Why Latin Should Still Be Taught in High School

Christopher Bursk

Because one day I grew so bored
with Lucretius, I fell in love
with the one object that seemed to be stationary,
the sleeping kid two rows up,
the appealing squalor of his drooping socks.
While the author of De Rerum Natura was making fun
of those who fear the steep way and lose the truth,
I was studying the unruly hairs on Peter Diamond’s right leg.
Titus Lucretius Caro labored, dactyl by dactyl
to convince our Latin IV class of the atomic
composition of smoke and dew,
and I tried to make sense of a boy’s ankles,
the calves’ intriguing
resiliency, the integrity to the shank,
the solid geometry of my classmate’s body.
Light falling through blinds,
a bee flinging itself into a flower,
a seemingly infinite set of texts
to translate and now this particular configuration of atoms
who was given a name at birth,
Peter Diamond, and sat two rows in front of me,
his long arms, his legs that like Lucretius’s hexameters
seemed to go on forever, all this hurly-burly
of matter that had the goodness to settle
long enough to make a body
so fascinating it got me
through fifty-five minutes
of the nature of things.

More by Christopher Bursk

Your Father Sunbathing

Sundays, your father climbs out a window
            onto the roof, 
      looking for somewhere
there are no women,
            nothing else to do
      but undress,
lie down and open his arms wide,
            spread his legs
      and make an X,
a target for the sun
            to concentrate
      all its energies on,
the groin, the seat of the soul, the
            hairy, breathing sac,
      and your father
summoning all the light he can,
            his exhaustion
      heroic, a warrior's.
What if you follow, 
            quiet as the light,
      kneel
beside him, intimate
            as the sun, trace his calves,
      his ankle's spidery veins, 
even his tired feet
            cocked to one side?
      Like someone blind,
you want to read the line
            of your father's jaw,
      the story of his mouth,
your mouth on his shoulders,
            his belly--lightly
      as you'd kiss a flower,
brushing your lips across
            your father's 
      penis, its taste like
petals, wet grass, wax
            candy, old dolls.
      Like women at the cross
who gather the crucified
            into their arms,
      stroking a miracle, 
not to take the wound 
            away
      but to know
what suffering really is.
            Mary, 
      Mary Magdelene.
It seems so natural,
            the mouth
      pressing against all
it's drawn to.

My love is as a fever, longing still

It didn't take a Harvard Medical School degree
to detect you and I were not lovers destined to wed
but two viruses doing their best to infect each other,
two fevers that'd spread, different symptoms of the same
sickness. Past cure I am, now reason is past care.
Did I really wish to die? The doctor dismissed me
with the professional ease with which one might swat a fly,
as if for the fly's own good. So what
if you loved me more intimately than anyone ever would?
A cancer cell could say that of any body
it refused to let go. Once the heart was infected,
how could it be corrected? So what was I waiting for?
The truth is, the doctor smiled,
the microbe adores the flesh it's dating.