"Je comprendes tout ce que vous dites" and "Les gentilles femmes de Vandenesse"
Je comprends tout ce que vous dites*
Of course, what was true at that moment
was not always true and even two years
in France could not cure outsidership.
Fifty years later, I don't know where we
were when I approached the pension desk
where the owner was gossiping with another woman
and remarking upon my stupidity and bad accent.
I do not know anymore what took me to that desk.
I do know I was holding my toddler in my arms. I
do know that even at two, she spoke better playground
French than me, a student at the Sorbonne.
I do know my accent was not half-bad although my grammar
was a scandal, but what I said this time was a line
I had frequent occasion to announce. You think you
are talking about me behind my back when I am
standing in front of you. You take refuge in your
native language which you assume I do not know.
True, my speech is far from correct, my accent an assault
upon your tender ears. But I understand you perfectly
and also I understand that you are insulted
by the imperfections of my speech after living two years
among you and trying as best I can to measure up.
I do know you look down upon the Swiss for their accents.
The French Canadians are even worse. And even your
countrymen from Nievres do not escape your wrath. Americans
with their stilted college French and arrogance annoy you also
although you compliment them for their effort and accept
their francs with smiles. The trick is this: It is not necessary
to be an anglophone in France to live the status of an outsider.
Actually, you need go no further than your nearest store in any city
or ‒ God help you ‒ small village in your home country to know
the truth of what I say. In this world of penury and exclusion
there are no exceptions. To be accepted, you must come from here.
And finally, I must confess, it happens in the States as well, though
we who are the natives may not see it in the shadows of our land.
*I understand everything that you are saying.
Les gentilles femmes de Vandenesse*
Les gentilles femmes de Vandenesse take no cell phone calls while cooking ratatouille in kitchens open to the wind, protected from wasps by strands of colored plastic pegged to ancient doorframes of stucco cottages with red-thatched roofs ‒ gigantic yellow jacketed beasts deserving of a surname dance over the stove drawn to smoke and heat and flame, and the women take little notice, distant as they are from doctors and epinepherine for anaphylactic shock. The baked dirt cemetery behind stone walls on the other side of the one-lane road to Nevers offers no distraction from the food laid out on board, washed and peeled and dried, ready for the knife blade flashing in the sunlight streaming in. The washing and peeling and chopping goes on for hours this time of year as combinations of what is gathered on damp mornings before the sun burns off the mist, the women creating from what they have, same as the chef at Le Taillevent who offers Tomates cerises (Cherry tomatoes) but for less than 60 bucks a pop.
*The good women of Vandenesse. Vandenesse is a small village in the Nievre Department in central France.
Martha Deed's poems and stories have appeared in Unlikely Stories, New Verse News, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Moss Trill, The Buffalo News, Poemeleon, The Skinny Journal, BlazeVox Journal and many others. She's published 7 chapbooks. FootHills Publishing has issued her two poetry collections, Climate Change (2014) and Under the Rock (2019) with a third forthcoming in 2023. She mostly does not write about murder anymore. Politics and her feisty house are challenges enough. Martha recommends Walt Whitman Birthplace.