Fear in French


The four of us in Conversational French
that Spring were: Denise, a math major, 
Nooshin, the Persian debutante,
Agnes, the imported instructor,
a round-faced, lollipop francaise,
And me, preoccupied with love.

We spent a weary hour each day
trying to fit opinions through
our flimsy French vocabulaire,
like funnelling Kool Aid through a straw.

Je pense que… Nooshin studied
her manicure. A mon avis…
Denise sunk down behind her books.
I swiveled in my swivel chair,
and watched the clock behind the poor
girl sent from France to be our friend.

We spilled out into madeup words,
into English or just silence.
Agnes would steer us onward to
new topics: la musique popularie,
la politique, le mariage.
But talk was still a sack of bricks
passed around the conference table.

The afternoon when Agnes asked,
De quoi avez vous peur? our blank
stares were misunderstood.
She tried again. What do you fear?
What worries you? Still no one spoke.

Rien? There must be quelque chose.
To the doodler she offered, Le chômage?
To the princess, La guerre?
And to me, L’avenir? I just shrugged.

Outside the window azaleas burst
In tacky, unrepentant pinks.
Maybe I lacked the words in French,
But I think there was a moment when
I wasn’t afraid of anything.



there's a movie out now, "paris, je t'aime" that this poem reminds me of. one of the last segments - it's a collection of vignettes- features a coloradoan mail carrier with conversational french who has a similar realization. (would it be correct to describe this as "anagnorisis"?) check out the movie if you get a chance...

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