appeared or is forthcoming in several print and online journals,
including The Florida Review, Rattle, Small Spiral Notebook,
Rock Salt Plum Poetry Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Stirring.
Recently, her story, "Random Girl," was selected
as a Notable Online Story of 2003 in storySouth's Million
Writer's Award. She lives with her husband and two sons in
Dans le cartable de Jean-Francois
It was the phrase that made us love
high school French, the one we rolled out
in two-step beats, shortcutting it back
to the trailer park after school, tramping
through wealthy neighborhoods, where silver
haired men waxed cars and misted lawns
and pretended they weren't watching us.
Dans le cartable, dans le cartable.
In a windowless room, words were spooned
to us one at a time: un crayon, une tablette,
une gomme. We slid our tongues
over the wet snails of each syllable,
swallowed them, pulsing, down our throats.
When we were good, our petite
teacher gifted us with stories of life
in Paris, where couples made love, she swore,
on park benches and museum steps.
We imagined a city of bodies, groaning
rivers of sweat. Each conjugation
brought us closer to miles of skin,
to shameless lips and glossy fingernails,
and we wanted nothing more
than to feel the slick slats of benches
beneath our own spines, to run
a hand over a boy's trembling
triceps, and reach downward
to the pavement, to where his book bag
was heaped unevenly, reassuringly.
Someone says there's a cure.
Bring your postpartum blues, your anorexia,
your codependence and housewife's distress.
Let's have it out.
Abandon your journals, needles, skillets
and pills, your nooses and ovens and mops.
Say these things belong in a museum.
Say they're history, baby, history.
Watch them burn.
Look, you say, there are stairways, aisles,
spaces where you just might belong.
But overhaul your delusion, my darling,
you're really not here at all.
You're on another planet altogether.
You've been plucked and pricked,
pureed, implanted. You're silicone, whale
blubber, Prozac and wax. Try this water, hags
have drowned in it for centuries. First one foot,
then two, and you're up to your knees in women,
a million-breasted sea of women.
Climb aboard, the moon ladies sing,
we've all been waiting for you.
We'll razor you up and love you,
we'll really take care of you.
Come with us. Leave your old
world behind. Dive right in,
it's clearly divine. Feel the water
lapping like a husband's kiss,
familiar and warm. Now say it:
you could live this.
She thought she was in for a lifetime
of condemning afternoons, daily
promenades around the permanent
fixture of his discontent. Her thinning,
gravy-colored hair offended him,
her gravity-bowed shoulders as well.
His running joke: that he'd nabbed
that rarest of species, the wild ignoramus.
It worked sometimes to imagine her body
tapered, folded into a weightless kite.
Church was for fools, he said,
so she spent Sundays secretly praying
through the house, hiding her invocations
in the basement, Hail Marys whispered
over the ironed linen, Our Fathers
in the bathtub, the slow weep
of washcloth water over her eyes.
The door, per his mandate, always unlocked.
In their early years, it helped
to remember their courtship,
how he had once twirled her in front
of a friend returned from the war,
who sat in his wheelchair, stunned
to watch her hair spread like a girl's skirt.
She thought of this man often, his sad
hands an aunt had folded for him
pressed into his captive lap.
Much later, her smaller crimes
provoked him most. The way
she clucked her tongue after each sip
of coffee. Her habitual losses: car keys
when he was restless, television remotes
when he was confined to bed, sometimes
the tiny knob that controlled the house's
temperature. There were breakfasts
she swore she didn't mean to burn,
the kitchen a spreading blossom of gray smoke.
Now, her children tell her that she's free.
She can travel, take ballroom dancing, go to church.
They bring brochures (Visit Rome!)
along with casseroles made for one.
She eats directly from each pyrex dish, warm
spoonfuls of breadcrumbed macaroni.
Sundays, she insists on spending
hours at her formica table, the kitchen
loud with prayers he once denied her.
To her right: a mass of origami paper,
sheets of rice and foil pounded thin.
Her first weekend, she bred a rainbow
batch of cranes, but didn't like the way
their heads were fixed in permanent nods,
the festive colors of useless, rooted wings.
She won't explain herself to her worried
daughters, who stopped asking questions anyway
once they saw the humble ceremony of her lips
addressing each perfect square, the ritual
smoothing of her palms along creases,
once they saw how accordion stacks
of paper warriors multiplied around her,
growing steadily, silently taller.
Copyright © 2004 Theresa Boyar