Susan Olding

Second Conjugation

The yips of coyotes echo
through the canyons
of our excellent architects.

Rats scrabble in the alleys.
This is not the first time.
It has all already happened.

The old answers will not answer.
Answer? Answer.
Answer!

Boots thud through empty
corridors. Strings
snap, a sharp note scrapes the air.

Elevators dangle
from their severed cables.
The old answers equal terror.

Add terror to terror, twice terror. Multiply
by ten. Subtract six sunny afternoons but don’t
delude yourselves—the next wind

will still stink of kerosene.
Grass catches faster when it’s hot.
A sad sharp note shatters glass.

Broken glass feeds the heat.
Are we afraid of the fire
or of ourselves?

Water is a portable soul.
You can march a boot to water
but you can’t make it

drink deep, deep into her peerless eye.
Those tears don’t signify.
Just a speck of glass from the recent blast.

Happiness is limited
not incorporated. Our excellent architects
have not mastered its plan.


Source & Method

Translitic from exercise 176 in The First Latin Book, William Coe Collar and Moses Grant Daniell. Boston: Ginn & Company, 1897, p. 69.


Susan Olding is the author of Pathologies: A Life in Essays. Her poetry and prose have appeared journals and anthologies including Desperately Seeking Susans and In Fine Form.


Photo by Velizar Ivanov