Green Hills Literary Lantern


Living Language

 first published in The MacGuffin, Vol. 35:3

He told me not to use Latin in my poem,

that only a few people are interested.

Plain American words are good enough

and you get the meaning faster.


But I love Latin, the original names of flowers

and trees, even music, like when we sang

the Bach Magnificat or the B Minor Mass

in the Grace Cathedral. Breathing so much

air, I felt the columns move.


For four years in high school each of us

had to stand beside our chairs to translate.


One autumn day, my Latin teacher, Mrs. Carfagno,

usually so buttoned up, with her tight

strawberry-blond curls turning grey,

shouted out: “Gaudeamus Igitor,

Juvenes dum summus!”


Then we all stood up in the front of the classroom

and sang all the verses with her. Her face flushed red.

Right in the middle of Cicero. Before Julius Caesar

crossed the Rubicon. Even before we learned

“Alea inacta est!” the die was cast. Latin, engraved




Recently retired from Santa Rosa Jr. College, Donna L. Emerson’s award-winning publications include Verdad, the New Ohio Review, CALYX, and Paterson Literary Review. She has published four chapbooks and a full length book nominated for the California Book Award, The Place of Our Meeting. Her most recent awards: nominations for a Pushcart, Best of the Net, and two Allen Ginsberg awards. Her forthcoming book, Beside the Well, will be published by Cherry Grove Collections, in December, 2019.