Jamais by Laura S. Marshall

I’d like to believe that you invented French,
that no words like frisson or frémir
existed before you breathed them
against the skin of my neck.

You took my tears and my sighs
and you gave them magical names like larmes
and soupirs, words and sounds and feelings
that never were thought or heard or felt

before you and me,
and now I speak courrament and can
understand without
a dictionary in my hands.

Now we only communicate in French
when we are together: We are all plush tones
and prosodic stress and soft sighs
and mots véloutés and grandes respirations

and we write multipage poems for each other.
Once you sent me a letter,
but it was accidentally in English,
which you still speak with your family

and the people in your office and at the store.
In the letter you wrote not of frissons
or larmes or soupirs but of things I couldn’t
translate or even pronounce. I held it

up to the light, pretending you were inventing
something again, a new way to say: “Oh,
here’s another gift for you, something
to unwrap like French” or “Now

we don’t even need words at all – I’ve made you
something better.”
But you never mailed
the letter. You never even wrote it. In fact

you just called, mumbling, humming,
a little drunk, to get a number
for one of my friends. You were hoping
she could teach you new words and new phrases

and when I gave you the secret code
you used a word I knew once and I said – what –
not hanging up the phone, though
I wanted to pretend that your voice lowered

to velvet and brushed new words
over my ears, my skin, to make me
shiver and tremble and sigh
and maybe even cry

with the magic of the names.
But of course you only laughed
and you thanked me with your flat hard voice,
with your stupid English words.

 

 

Laura S. Marshall is a writer and editor who lives in New England. She studied linguistics as an undergraduate at Queen’s University in Canada and as a grad student at the University of British Columbia. She has studied writing at the Ashbery Home School, the Juniper Summer Writing Institute at UMass Amherst, and the College of Our Lady of the Elms. Her work appears or is forthcoming in literary publications including Epigraph Magazine, Lavender Review, Junoesq, and the Queen’s Feminist Review, as well as newspapers and trade magazines.

 

Detail of Les Deux Amies by Lagrenee.

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