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Linda France

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Homage to My Latin Teacher: Mrs Stanley Hall

You swept into the lesson, dressed in red,
chalk dust powdering your hair, your patrician nose,
already translating Parkstone Grammar
First Form into AD 43:
our first taste of your noble, passionate tongue.

Salvete puellae! And we'd chant back
Salve domina! The exclamation mark
a chorus of chairs scraping the tiled floor
as we sat, a fizzing cohort of girls.

You rolled the words around your mouth and sucked
the juice out of them. I hid at the back
and watched you spit. Like a mother bird,
you fed us from your own lips - the table;
to the table; by, with, from the table.

And so I learnt to unravel the puzzle
of the Unseen, marvel at the precision
of syntax and rhetoric, recognise
the English in the squares of the mosaic.

We could all have cheered at Cicero's coaxing,
wept when Dido flung herself on the pyre,
but knew that someone had to found Rome
or else we'd have no baths, no straight roads,
no alphabet from which to build our own.

Your daughter was in the year above mine.
I wondered how it would be to have you
as a mother; if you talked Latin at home.