ODE TO MY YOUTH

Is there anything more ridiculous than being eighteen
and pretending you don't speak English, using French
as a way to ignore unwanted attention, a smoke screen
for my gawky naiveté, a crutch
against social awkwardness? I mean
I was in Grand Central Station, didn't know much
about anything, only that I had to make the 5:17
to Poughkeepsie, or I'd be in Dutch
with my parents. Make that double-Dutch! I leaned
my elbows on the bar, lit up a Tareyton, the scritch
of the match striking something in the clean-
cut Beach Boy look-alike who didn't flinch
at my je ne parle pas. My magazine,
full of fashion, fantasy, gave me an itch
for adventure, while my life was squeaky-clean,
a meek country mouse set loose in the city.
So clueless, I had to glean
protection from diction, poach
it from another language. O redeem
me, mother of memory. I was a dumb peach,
didn't know how to flee the scene.
I slid off the stool, grabbed my clutch,
ran for the train. My fake routine
unraveled, I left him in the lurch.
My face red, hot as gasoline
looking for a match.
I thought I could pass as a French gamine.
But I was nothing but an upstate klutz.
~Barbara Crooker
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