What Advice Would Mircea Dinutz, My Teacher of Latin, Give Me?

I imagine him walking fast on Strada Gării, hurrying up
to our high school. At forty, his hair already white.

The collar of his threadbare coat raised up, as he tries to fight
the frost that cuts through his knuckles. He’s carrying

a battered leather satchel full of papers from three high schools
from the far ends of town. He is an adjunct.

He scans the Latin verses on the blackboard. We don’t
listen. Don’t see him. Don’t appreciate him. We are young

and foolish. He fails because he tries too hard. Maybe he
succeeds but we don’t know. All the sustaining pauses

from the wooden tongue of communism.
All the sustainable distractions from having to learn

Party nonsense by heart. He sweats and frets
as he writes the declensions on the board. He is teaching us

the prologue to the Aeneid. We don’t listen. He is a fussbudget
when it comes to teaching grammar. Though we don’t listen,

we hear what he says—thirty years later. How many students
from my high school class became members of Securitate,

the communist secret police? One classmate planned
to become a priest but, instead, became a member of Securitate.

Another classmate went to the Seminary to become a priest—
and became a priest. Standing in front of all of us,

our teacher of Latin taught us, a philology class,
that the Dacians survived the Roman invasion through grammar.

Those women must have loved Latin. Those Roman
soldiers must have been good teachers of grammar.

LUCIA CHERCIU is a Professor of English at SUNY/Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, NY. She is the author of five books of poetry, including Train Ride to Bucharest (Sheep Meadow Press, 2017), which received the Eugene Paul Nassar Poetry Prize. Her poetry was nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize and twice for Best of the Net.