How long, I ask, will you try our patience,
Catiline? Or ” world,” the eloquent Roman
Might well have said; or “high school,” or “teachers,
Or “college boards”! I walk into your room
To find you sleeping on the bed, your dark hair
Covering the pages of a book of Latin literature
In translation– a look of peace on your face
After hours of struggle with that famous
Roman orator. And outside it’s spring.
There are birds celebrating in the trees.
And the season’s first unwrinkled sunlight
Is pouring through your bedroom window.
What all this has to do with Cicero,
We’ll never know. But you are stuck inside,
Reading his first oration against that scoundrel
Cateline, and the essay’s due on Monday
For that teacher whom you dread, whose name
Alone is enough to send you shuddering
Into tears. But the room is quiet now.
Your windows are closed, and you can’t hear
What’s going on outside. I see your notebook
Open on the bed– the crossed out words,
The notes scribbled sideways in the margins;
The blue ink in flowery neat letters
Where you succeeded with a difficult idea
And got it down. But it’s quiet in the room now.
And you are elsewhere than in ancient Rome.
You have escaped a moment from the drudgery
Of history and the need to care about things
You don’t care about. And Cicero goes on
In the pages of your open book, though without
The benefit of your sweet attention,
With his endless disputation against that dark
Conspiracy of Cataline’s, droning on and on
And on into your sleeping ear as he has done
So many times before throughout the classrooms
Of the ages. We are all unwilling victims
Of our history, in one way or another,
Listening to the painfully dull orations
Of some unwanted past. But the room is quiet now
And you are sleeping. You’ve found the one escape
That’s handed down from generation to generation,
And for a moment you can dream a world
that’s never heard of suffering and Cicero.
I see your hand released in sleep where sunlight
Puts a bar across your bed; the whole scene
Looking like a stanza from Catullus, only you’re not drunk,
Though beautiful, and your cheeks are flushed,
Not with wine or the spent throws of passion,
But rather the simple blush of the common tragedy
Of the end of childhood. O Cicero, be kind.
The business of the empire will not wait, I know;
But she is young and you are old. And outside
The birds are celebrating in the trees,
And there’s little time enough for youth and spring.
Go easy with her. Regard her fragile beauty.
But in the end prepare her for those difficult
Stoic virtues of fortitude and perseverance,
And the mundane victories of patience and duty.