The Diagrammer of Sentences

by Clare Rossini

(From Lingo, University of Akron Press, 2006)

for my father

Beneath the kitchen's halo of flourescence
I stood shyly at your side,
The pen in your big freckled fist
Filleting sentence after sentence,

Whether compound or not,
With all manner of tenses shivering,
And the phrase singled out, and the absolute exposed.

Music from the stove a few feet away,
My mother humming, pot lids clanking,

Above and below and around, cries and laughter-

Ten of us crammed into that bungalow
Braced against the winter riding in
From frost-shorn fields.

Find the subject,
You said to me, That's the proper start-

Subject or object, which was I?

And then the predicate, with its verb-

To sing, to pray, to think, to be,
How could words contain such festering?

"To modify," you said, Is to shape, to fix qualities to-

Word-love infecting the air we breathed,
The dictionary presiding at supper
Night after night, a Prospero's book
Of roots and derivations,

And scraps of paper fluttering on the walls,
Poems, proscriptions, prayers,
Some in foreign tongues:

In medio stat virtue.

In bocca chiusa,
Non ci entra mosche.

Character is all.

Wind banged the house-side
As you looked sideways up, your eyes
Behind your thick black glasses
Studying my face.

Want to try? you asked, then turned back
To the blank white universe
Your hand held in place, printing a sentence there
With a flourish.

Did I take the pen,
Scatter your words on my diagram's broken,
Sideways tree?

I remember the sentence
You made for me:

Gladly the man and his daughter walked up the hill.