“Handscape” by Caleb M.X. Dance

Caleb M.X. Dance


He was teaching his students
the parts of a plow
while reading the Georgics

in Latin: a learned poem for
learning the parts of
a plow, how to raise trees,

ways to summon bees from
the carcass of a cow.
He was teaching his students

in a town wedged in hills still
tended by farmers
and vintners and modern day

wainwrights (H&J Tire Co.).
But he did not know
what a share-beam was,

what lolium is, what drags do.
He knew, however, that
vomis (“plough”) is another form

of vomer (“plow”) and that both
words can mean “penis”
and that labor (“labor”) conquered

all other meanings over thousands
of years to mean now
that we still work with our hands.

from Rattle #61, Fall 2018
Tribute to First Publication


Caleb M.X. Dance: “I teach classical literature and languages at Washington and Lee University, and many of my favorite poems are thousands of years old. I often imagine how Roman poets like Ovid and Horace, as they were drafting poems on wax tablets, would have had to rub out old words for their revisions … perhaps as often as I consult my eraser.”

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