A Latin Elective, Brooklyn College, 1968


While our knees pistoned

for Professor Kaplan to hand out

the passages we’d have to translate

for our final exam, Eleanor mumbled,

“Latin’s a dead language, as dead

as it can be; first it killed the Romans,

and now it’s killing me.”

Maybe it was hilarious, maybe

I was just nervous, but I laughed

‘til tears etched my cheeks

like the Styx—that river of Hell—

that Aeneas trembled to cross.

Or maybe, the scared laughter

of the dirty jungle war lurking

in my not-too-distant future,

the war that was the only news

on the radio, TV, or in the papers,

the only thing we talked about

in the college cafeteria

or thought of in the library

while studying declensions

and conjugations, or scratched

my head over sentences as alien

to my “fuhgeddaboutit”

Brooklynese as the language

our enemies spoke in rage,

love, and terror.

Reading The Rolling Stone

Over a pizza lunch,

I study this list of Dylan’s

70 greatest songs,

on his 70th birthday,

the way I once

scrutinized box scores,

as if searching for

ultimate truth

in the homers Mays hit,

Koufax’s strikeout count,

or the number of yards

Jim Brown rushed for.

As I read,

I keep telling myself

all lists are put out by people

with nothing better to do.

Still, it rankles

when so few of my favorites

have made the cut.

Where’s “Senor”?

I want to shout, but

there are too many pizza

feasters itching for violence

over a hockey game re-run.

So I bite, chew, swallow,

read, and mutter curses

at the general stupidity

of everyone, but myself.



Robert Cooperman’s latest collection is THE DEVIL WHO RAISED ME (Lithic Press).  Also recently published is THAT SUMMER  (Main Street Rag Publishing Co.)  IN THE COLORADO GOLD FEVER MOUNTAINS (Western Reflections Books) won the Colorado Book Award for Poetry.

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