Public Education

Children who learn Latin are not obese. Sometimes their eyesight is failing. Sometimes they are struck on the back of the head by tethered balls. Sometimes they are struck on the back of the head again by tethered balls. Sometimes they are struck on the back of the head again and again, always by tethered balls. Children who learn Latin like dogs. Children who learn Latin are cured of childhood diseases by non-therapeutic doses of Penicillin. They succumb readily to poison. Often they are drowned by fluids in their lungs. Sometimes they are drowned in fresh water. They never drown in the sea. When children who learn Latin travel across the plains to the mountains, which are a basin-and-range formation, they have been known to slip on the scarps, the scree on the scarps. They have been known to slide all the way down from the range to the basin, and sliding, their skins rasp away. The ligaments pull from their bones and parts of their bones move violently to the surfaces of their bodies. Long ago there was a sea, a sea where the children who learn Latin lie looking at parts of their bones. The ripples of water are preserved above them in the rocks, and traces of aquatic worms. I could not drown in this way, lying in strong sunlight on alluvium, looking at parts of my bones, but I did not learn Latin. Children who learn Latin are not afraid to die. Hiking, I have gathered their broken glasses into specimen bags. I have separated rims, hinges, temples, lenses into specimen bags. Beyond the outcropping, the butterflies remain unlabeled, sorting themselves by color on the flowers. I am very afraid.


My brother and I entered our barbarous phase—matted hair, girdles of pelts—and we lived alone together in culverts of the town. The houses of the town were still standing and some retained furnishings, credenzas I remember from furtive raids, heavy, inscrutable credenzas, also, beds and chairs. We dragged blankets to the culverts, cushions, tins of food, and tableware. We wouldn’t live in the houses, although now I can’t remember what principle restrained us. The fear of corners, perhaps. Is that a principle? We would not be caged. My girdle left my genitals exposed. We filled hampers with bath mats and canvas shoes and dragged the hampers to the culverts. We made herbal teas over hamper fires and it may be that the herbal teas soothed us. We used the herbs at random. Certain herbs stimulate the nerves and passions, and certain herbs are soporifics; they dull the mind and body. Maybe we were dulled on herbs. Sometimes at night we couldn’t agree on objects. The number of sides. We made a game of it. We slapped each other’s hands. We were always hot or cold and slept greedily. The culverts were dry. We scratched each day in the dirt. We scratched other shapes and guessed at them. We never guessed right. Maybe we just changed our minds. Later we emerged. We sought out others to see what they did, how they endured such interesting times.

Joanna Ruocco co-edits Birkensnake, a fiction journal, with Brian Conn. She is the author of The Mothering Coven (Ellipsis Press), Man’s Companions (Tarpaulin Sky Press), A Compendium of Domestic Incidents (Noemi Press), and Another Governess / The Least Blacksmith: A Diptych (FC2). Toni Jones, her more athletic alter ego, just released her first novel, No Secrets in Spandex, from Crimson Romance.