Nils Peterson: Talk in the Reading Room
About Nils Peterson

 The Reading Room
 Xmas Eve at the Big House 
 Christmas Mysteries 
Summers in Long Island 
 Father Arrives in the    Triumphal Car 
 Yankee Stadium Gone 
 A Thing of Beauty 
 Learning From My Father 
 Learning From My Mother 
The Bus


 Next Stop 
 Going to College
 My Lecture on Romanticism 
 A Story 
 Go Way From My Window 
• Singing in the Rain 
 On the Nature of Exposition 
A Latin Class
 A Hero's Life
 Letter to Paul Cantrell 
• Homecoming 
 The Moon and the Bulldozer


A Latin Class

There were five of us, Dr. Vaughn at his desk, the three other students right in front of him, and me, at the back of the room, huddled against a wall, hoping I wouldn’t be called on. It was, like Johnson’s remark about a man who got married a second time, “A triumph of hope over experience.” Once I was asked to translate one of the poems of Horace — the famous one with carpe diem in it, “seize the day.” I was seizing the day with the aid of a 19th century pony accurate except for an occasional flourish. l was also practicing my dramatic presentation, hemming and hawing. When I came to the famous phrase, I read with gestures straight out of my translation “Pluck the flowers of the day.” My college record has D’s that I earned. Dr. Vaughn’s was a gift.

But I found myself another fall studying Virgil for the first time in thirty years. I loved it, read now in English, though the image of Aeneas fleeing the burning towers leading his son and carrying his aged father who clutched their household gods caught me in my middle age. I felt the weight of my father’s ghost and the urgent forward pull of my children, and my muse had abandoned me to my own devices and I felt the sacked city behind, but had no sense of a kingdom to come.

Despairing, I gave up on the spirit, took to jogging, and found my body could carry me farther than ever I imagined when, young, I thought of my real self as a voice rattling around in the skull. I lifted, strained, and pushed against strange machines. I stretched and twisted. There was a woman I would watch play tennis — loving that moment after the first few games when she would break out into a beautiful sweat, her competent body oiling itself. From that moment she’d start to move better, getting to balls she could not reach before.

How I long for such a moment of grace, to move as easily in and with myself as breath and not to have my longing scattered among small untranslated desires.

So, graceful Virgil rose each morning and wrote a hundred lines, then canceled them one by one until maybe half a phrase stood, and I see his intelligent, wry mouth caught between smile and sigh as he scrapes the parchment almost clean, and I hear the steady bonk of shot after shot as a woman practices her backhand against a wall.

  © 2014, Nils Peterson

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