Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ad Vitam Paramus (tanka prose)

I still can see my fingers pasting bits of dyed eggshell onto the pencil sketch in my notebook. The history teacher, Mr. H., had turned his nose up at my first depiction of the Bayeux Tapestry. I'm not yet eleven—am new to this school, new from America to this strange little country. I don't understand the point of immersing myself in studies of bloodthirsty conquests, brutal monarchs, black plagues, and the like. Or spending time on related artwork.

etched onto old desks
by many hands—
how English becomes
a foreign language

Fresh from university, and one of the few men ever to set foot in our hallowed school, poor Mr. H. also was required to teach us long-dead Latin. Decades later, memories would surface, popping up as posts on Facebook walls. The way he stood errant students on desk chairs and hurled chalkboard erasers at them (threatening the most recalcitrant students with heavy textbooks). Yet how mere sightings of him, with his handsome, chiseled looks, immediately evoked giggles and whispers throughout the schoolhouse. And how one year, after the summer holidays, Mr. H. never returned. The story goes he ran off to New Zealand with a female teacher; the only detail that remains in question is which teacher that was.

introduced to love,
the first Latin verb
we learn to conjugate

 Ad Vitam Paramus = We are preparing for life.

—Haibun Today, Volume 7, Number 1, March 2013 


  1. I really enjoyed reading this charming piece--evocative, relatable, and full of gentle wit & irony. What a great title!

  2. glad you enjoyed it! so long, long ago ...
    I think I must have left the school before Mr. H. did. speaking of which, the school had a birthday-reunion just last weekend. I got to see photos on Facebook of some of my classmates who attended. amazing how I could easily recognize most of them.

  3. Hi Janet,

    I like your piece. My children went to a French speaking school in Switzerland for awhile, and I often wonder what they really felt about the experience.


  4. Adelaide - Did they quickly learn French?! I have a friend who attended a school in Switzerland for a long time.

    It was a big transition for me, but oddly it was even a bigger culture shock when I later had to transition back into American schools.

  5. Yes, they learned French. When they returned to the US the 1st few months back were strange for them; I think the other kids thought them different. They knew nothing about the latest fads, etc., but they caught on quickly.