TO NAME AND TO MOVE
Dry waves of leaves break at our feet as we follow the adults up the hillside. I ascend slowly with the children, collecting chestnuts. Some of the nuts’ brown eyes rest half-peeking from their armored husks; these I pinch at until the pokes of the husks’ needles turn my fingertips tender and red. “Non, pas comme ça...,” Lisa shows me, stepping all of her slender nine-year-old weight on half of the husk so that the chestnut, smooth and swollen, easily pops out. “Voilà,” she giggles as the châtaigne ricochets off my kneecap.
The chestnuts’ creamy centers eye me from below bushes and through dying grass. It’s a mad dash into the woods to find the most chestnuts. My plastic supermarket sack swells and a hole breaks, a trail of chestnuts rolling down the hill behind me. The children laugh as they scramble over one another to recollect them as I walk ahead unknowing. I turn toward them, their bags overflowing and I get the jokeme. Lisa authoritatively hands over two new sacks, instructing me to double bag as she corrects my proper Parisian-sounding French learned in the States with her own pronunciation. It’s the accent of the Midi regionthe mute “e”s demanding a sound, adding a syllable. “Pas ‘chât-aign.’ Châ-taign-nuh.”
Searching for cèpes is the plan for today; a typically bright, dry, late-autumn Saturday in southern France’s Parc Nationale des Cervennes. Gaining fluency and understanding of the spoken French language is my agenda for these twelve months I’ll spend living with Nadine and her daughter, Lisa. I follow them and their neighbors, Marie and her children, toward a place where Nadine and Lisa have gathered mushrooms each autumn for years. Nadine’s family, who settled originally in the Cervennes mountain range to avoid persecution from the Catholics, found the spot, “their spot,” generations ago. Several times they joked that I’m “safe” to bring along, since surely the Americans I’ll share their secret with would never travel so far just to find some mushrooms. “Mais s’il ya des français chez toi . . .” Lisa begins, warning. “Oui,oui,” Nadine agrees. Even transplanted French, perhaps even French descendants, may be fools enough to travel across an ocean to find a mushroom if they heard of this secret place. Marie, Nadine’s neighbor and best friend, laughs at their seriousness. “The Catholics aren’t still after you, Nadine!” she jokes. Still I swear, twice, because once doesn’t seem to appease them, that the location of “their spot” will not be disclosed.
Cèpes: an unfamiliar mushroom both to my tongue and to my ear. The “c” soft, the “e” quiet, the “p” short, the rest silent, or pronounced with an extra “uh” at the end if you’re in the south. It’s a sneaky mushroom, they tell me, hard to find. Much later I will realize that it is “porcini,” and be disappointed that our borrowed word for it doesn’t sound as slick, as slippery. Cèpes, I let the word slide from the roof of my mouth to my lips, until a familiarity grows between us, until the word flows fluently. Cèpes, cèp-uh.
“Tu m’écoutes ou quoi?” Lisa asks me, as her mother always asks her. “Yes, I’m listening,” I respond, but she’s already continued her explanation of the hierarchy of champignons; cèpes follow the jewel of all mushrooms in France, la truffe. Truffles I have heard of. Once at the end of a local newscast, during that time generally unfilled and so left open to any random bits of strange news, I saw a clip showing the specially trained pig snouts sniffing along the earth. But Lisa hasn’t heard about the pigs. Certainly it isn’t possible I’d know something about France she doesn’t know, and because she knows I’m from farmland, she tells me that I’m confused and thinking about home. “Oui, les couchons,” I loudly repeat, proud that for once I’m so certain I do have the right word.
She looks at me with a did-she-really-mean-to-say couchon? look, her left eyebrow up, and then dismisses the word with a doubtful shrug.
It’s already late November. For a full three months I’ve waited for the long stretch of Southern French summer to end. Autumn has been long in coming. Today I realize that my Iowan-raised eyes are out of context, seeing only an illusion of early October everywhere. It’s nearly December, yet it’s just the beginning of fall. Last weekend, back in the States, my family gathered around our Mission-style dining room table and said Thanksgiving grace as a light snow fell, freezing the last of our garden. This is the first weekend in southern France that the nights have been cool enough to justify retreating indoors for a light jacket or sweater. I’ve spent many evenings this month drinking tea with Nadine after the meal, trying to verbalize adequately the strange sensation of feeling out of all my normal contexts. Where are the clouds? When will the trees change color? What is the word again for “disoriented?” Nadine suggests the term décalage. The cheap French-English dictionary I brought contains only a simple translation, “jet-lag.” Disappointed, I let the word go.
All October I unrolled my straw mat along the beach and stared up at a flawlessly blue and empty Mediterranean sky, waiting for some sort of change, a signal. Yet each day continued as long and surreal as the one before it, simmering hot, bright, never-changing summer. Each day I looked out my bedroom window and sighed: the tree leaves still green, the sky too sunny. I ached for a breeze, the first frost, the V formation of geese cutting across all that perfect sky. Time held on tightly to the last rays of summer; in the American Midwest time had already let go as I stood in the south of France, holding my breath for that first leaf.
Those first few weeks my comprehension lagged, shuffling its feet behind each sentence. How many times did I ask someone to pause their story or conversation to explain that “bled” is a word picked up from Arabic to describe a “small town, or anyplace in the middle of nowhere?” Or that “le flot” in spoken French means not only “a wave” or “a stream,” but any water in general? Eventually I tuned out; sat at the table,
elbows in bread crumbs, staring empty-eyed at the others talking into the space between us, wondering when the meanings of those words would stick to me, too.
Ahead Nadine talks to Marie about my feeling that fall came late. “It’s right on time, Angie, French time!” she smiles down the hill. Southern French time moves slow and bright, like sun-kissed molasses, rolling passively over everything with golden beauty. Afternoon stretches until seven, evening until eleven, early morning until ten. At first I couldn’t understand, it just didn’t make sense that everything would move so slowly.
Don’t leave here before 10:15, Nadine instructs when my appointment is at 10:00. I learn to arrive at the bus stop down the street two hours before the start of my classes. Often the driver stops and picks up those not at designated stops, sometimes he stops at the tabac shop around the corner to run in for a pack of Gauloises, and almost weekly a customer at the butcher shop up the street parks her car in the middle of the small road, so that all of us on the bus have to wait for her to return with a bag of sausage links or cut of beef before the bus can continue down the street. If she’s decided to stop by the post office and the flower shop, then we sit longer. Once, and after waiting over a half hour, a group of young men on the bus got out and physically lifted her car onto the sidewalk so that we could get around. They weren’t grumpy about it though. It was just a part of the morning, like any morning that turns so easily into afternoon. There just isn’t any hurry, because the next bus route runs just as slow and behind schedule. It must be something in the blood. The slowness certainly exaggerates itself in their Midi accent as words lazily spread and yawn in a songlike exaggeration of normally silent syllables.
Lisa’s dark eyebrows stretch like two long paint strokes across her face as she explains seriously that my twenty-one years isn’t “big” yet, that I am in the “middle” category that includes eighteen to twenty-five. Taking her lead, the children agree to adopt me for their search group, jealous of each other as they take turns teaching me how to look for mushrooms and pointing to the poisonous ones. “Blahhhkaaa,” groans Hugo, bending and grabbing his stomach, “Je suis empoisonné!” I laugh, though it is a familiar out for many people I encounterwhen in doubt as to whether or not the American will understand your words, and especially if it’s a life or death situation, use sounds, wave your hands, stick your tongue out for good measure.
“Ahngieee,” they whisper to one another behind me, still shy about the funniness of my American name in their mouths. As we march up the hill, the younger ones repeat my name in a sing-song: Ahngieee-châtaignes-champignons-cèpes! Nadine and Marie turn and wink. When Marie’s children poke at my jacket pockets and try to tickle me, Lisa orders them to stop their prodding, pulling me to walk with her. I smile, remembering Nadine telling me this morning that Lisa had warned Marie’s children that she’d share me, but that I was, after all, her amèricaine.
Lisa surveys their interest, hands on her hips, as they bombard me with questions. Where in the States is your home? How far away is the United States? How far to your house? How many hours? Do you speak American at your house? If I visited would I speak American, too? For them I disrupt the seemingly simple order of it allAmericans should speak American English and live in America, the French should speak French and live in France. National borders, languages, and oceans stretch, stand, and spread as stable and eternal entities.
When I gave my leftover nickels, dimes, and quarters to these same children, they stared hard at the silver coins in the palms of their hands and then laughed. This isn’t money! they squealed at my silliness. Imagine me asking for une baguette around the corner, and handing the baker’s wife one of these silver coins with a strange man’s profile and these little nonsense words printed on it! I attempted to explain that these were coins from my country, that they could keep them as tokens of the United States. Well of course, exclaimed Lisa, because we use francs here, Ahngiee, francs.
They ran off with my coins in their pockets, permanent proof that I’m a confused adult-looking, childish-speaking, and sometimes without-common-sense being. They don’t know where to fit me in, and so I become the amèricaine who is staying at Nadine’s, or Lisa’s amèricaine buddy, or the amèricaine who loves stinky, overflowing cheeses. Always my nationality linked to something or someone French.
A mouth is a malleable thing, I’m learning. The phonetics diagrams of the French language, with their illustrations of arrows crawling through all sorts of canals, tunnels, passageways, and over tongues, make me hyper-aware of my own mouth. Within a month my French words lose their awkward, forced feel and roll, scratch, tumble within these spaces with a skilled flexibility. My “r” disappears, the “r” that made Lisa giggle. “aRRRRRRRR” she’d try, like a pirate. “R” turns lighter, loses its single edge, becomes gristly. Les arbres prennent leur couleurs. This change leads to a newfound confidence. I’d become almost talented at avoiding any word with an “r”. No more mumbling and whispering in an attempt to mask my foreignness. No more strangers staring in my direction at the bus stop or the post office as I ask my questions, the even, hard “r” sound the mark of an American.
The vowels are what I love most: flat words transform into open, round, voluptuous creatures with the growth of deep, nasal vowels. Banc, bon, brun, brin. Suddenly my “no’s” turn nasal, “non” coming from a meeting place in the upper back of my mouth, bottom of my nose. It vibrates and swells: non non non non. And then I do not recognize myself on the answering machine, in English. Sometimes I slip-up and refer to myself as “Ahhngieee” who comes from “Eeeowa.”
Prepositions, however, remain funny little devils, sneaky in their seeming simplicity of connecting one word to another, and practically unnoticeable until one’s in the process of such a feat. The little words pop out of my mouth easily and without notice, falling flat on their faces. Though I memorize their placements in French, I fumble with them when writing postcards home to the States. Do you talk at or to someone? Watch what’s on or in the TV? You don’t go to store, but you go to school. In some places my mouth says an “à” and not a “dans,” in others a “to” and not a “the” or an “in,” their meaning all a jumble in my mind.
Thinking I just dropped something from my jacket pocket, I stop to look into the dried leaves at my feet. My hand sweeps across a clump of something soft and damp, an orange mushroom. Trumpettes d’amour, they excitedly tell me, are a good find, especially for a beginner. These mushrooms crawl flat and long over the earth, outrageously orange, with a slight twist of a bell at one end. Once found they are easy to gather. Soon the children have gently swept back all the leaves, careful not to step any more than necessary, leaving me in the center of a soft orange sea. Their small hands work quickly as they peel the mushrooms from the earth.
Lisa jumps onto my back as I lean over to tie my boot, and I carry her piggy-back a ways up the hill as she sings, “Eeee-oh, eeee-oh.” Looking over my shoulder, I ask her what she thinks she’s singing. She looks at me funny, mouth smiling, eyebrows scrunched, head held sideways. The seven dwarves, Angie, you know, Snow White? she asks. “Hi, ho,” of course would be “Eee, oh” in French. I sing my version of it to her, and she laughs, her ribs shaking against my back. We walk up the path like that, singing our bilingual dwarf duet from Blanche Neige.
Soon the trail opens into a treeless mowed space of dying grass. Nadine leads me through the gate as she explains the story of the ruins, Roman ruins. Crumbling, weatherworn stones stretch along the earth, forming a square containing smaller rectangles. The state excavated the site of the ruins some fifty years ago. I read the plaques and signs, amazed that anyone who found strange shaped pieces of dirty blue glass would think “vase” and glue them back together into a clean definite shape, something to set on a table.
Marie sits and smokes a cigarette as her children turn cartwheels and prance around inside the ruins’ walls. We’re a circus! they scream. Nadine picks plump blackberries off a bush near the fence. Lisa pulls at my arm until I follow her toward the edge of the clearing to explore an abandoned shepherd’s cabin.
The cabin’s door teeters inward on one hinge, swinging back and forth in the breeze. Beams of light shine into the musty darkness from holes in the roof. I’m reminded of the dark corner of pasture behind my childhood home where a forgotten tree house hid in an old box elder tree. Beneath it grew the only patch of bluebells on our property. The neighbor kids and I never liked to play in that corner of the pasture. Maybe it was too dark, maybe it was always kind of muddy there, maybe it was too close to the electric fence. I crouched behind the tree for a long time during a game of hide-and-seek, waiting to be found. An old tin-can phone, rusted and tangled in the roots of the tree, reminded me that once, long ago, other children had played there and that they didn’t anymore. These children were probably very old now, I thought, staring at the rotten boards and the few steps of the ladder left of the tree house. A deep childhood knowing hit me, these children might even be dead! When my brother called, “Come out! Kyle’s it!” I ran quickly from that shadowed corner to join the other kids.
That same eeriness and stillness fills the one-room cabin, that same deep knowing. Lisa hasn’t said a word since we passed through the open doorway. She takes steps when I take steps, and holds tight to my hand. We stare together into the darkness of ferns, bat droppings, collapsed wooden chairs, and broken bed frame. “Pewwww-uh” Lisa finally whispers, not having a word for the smell and texture of this place. “Pewww-ie” I echo. Quickly she turns, drops my hand, and runs into the clearing where Marie has finished her first cigarette and now smokes another, Nadine eats berries, and the other children continue their tumbling tricks.
What’d you find? Marie asks us. Oh, not much interesting, Lisa responds before I get the chance to answer differently. We eat the apples and the Nutella we packed for lunch and don’t talk about the cabin. We both know that the life that once took place in that cabin is over, and that someday our own homes will be empty and alone, and for now that’s our secret.
When is a taste bud like a new verb? When the first drip of an ‘81 Bourgogne hits it, singing and sighing. Sentir, goûter, avaler, déguster. Red, but wearing a dress, showing some thigh. La robe fits tight around its body in a patchwork pattern of deep woodsy, berry, flowery tastes, giving a hint of the cuisse beneath, the mysterious layer of the wine that clings along the inside of a glass after a good swirl. “Cuisse?” I wonder, thinking, do they really mean thigh? Nadine’s oenologist neighbor smiles and nods affirmative, “Comme Brigitte Bardot, comme Marilyn Monroe,”
In France, in French, I find myself holding whiskery radishes in front of me, asking anyone for a name. Even back home, in my own language and familiar places, I return from brightly lit produce aisles with strange fruit and search through cookbooks to find their names and uses. Star fruit. Jewish artichokes. Until that connection forms, there exists no vehicle to channel my knowing and my thoughts toward something as simple and easily eaten as a radish into a name, a noun someone else will understand. In some cases the words in my mind and the French words around me have much in common. The tartness of a radish to the taste of un radis isn’t much of a jump; the transition from one word to the other moves more of a subtle side step.
When I prend un goût of a fresh African pineapple, only the third fresh pineapple I’ve ever eaten and the first one I’ve ever cut open myself, the crisp, juicy sweetness of it’s goût sticks to everything. I learn that its sweetness is “douce,” a word meaning both “soft” and “sweet.” “A towel can be douce?” I asked Nadine. “Mais, oui,” she replied. “What about a nice little old lady, can I call her douce also?” “Oui.” What would you call her? Nadine wants to know. When I try to explain that sweet, soft, and kind are clearly different in their meaning to me, she responds with a “hmmm.” Soft, sweet, kinddouce. We sit there, chunks of pineapple and the question of a word between us on the table, and then shrug a shared “why not?”
After our early-afternoon break we continue the ascent up the mountain slope. I, like the children, am getting tired of walking slowly with my eyes always down at my feet, looking for mushrooms. Hugo has been keeping a tally of who has found what, and keeps reminding me that I’m at the bottom of the list. The trumpettes d’amour find was hours ago. I’ve found nothing since. We all seem in a hurry to get to the mountaintop to Nadine’s family’s secret cèpe spot.
When we reach the spot it doesn’t look like much. Some overgrown brush, some fallen, rotting logs, and a patch of woods. I entertain the children while Nadine and Marie gather the few cèpes they find. Nadine points them out, next to the bases of tree stumps and along old mossy rocks, stressing how fragile they are and hard to see. This isn’t a job for amateurs though, which is fine by the children and me. The cèpe mushrooms are ugly and disappointing. They cling to the earth like ragged bits of nose or ears of a long-dead animal. Nadine and Marie gather barely half a sack full, “une fortune!” Marie tells me.
As soon as Nadine safely deposits the sack of cèpes in her backpack, the children dart down the hill ignoring the path we hiked up. I try to chase after them, but am too afraid of twisting an ankle or slipping to run fast enough. Soon all I hear is their chatter and shouts somewhere below. Nadine and Marie are far behind me, back somewhere up the slope on the path. There’s little choice but to keep going down. It’s a relief to shed the responsibility of looking closely for mushrooms or chestnuts, and a nice break from the pulls and pokes of the children. When I reach the road at the base of the slope where we started our ascent that morning, I’m the only one there. The cabin, the same cabin Nadine’s family lived in so long ago, sits across the gulch. Somehow everyone is already there. Pots and pans clank from within the cabin as I cross the footbridge. Of course there’s no reason to hurry. I’m sure Nadine and Marie figure I’m just taking my time. Lisa waves and yells, hey, I need your help where were you? She runs back to the woodpile before I can answer. Here, she says as she shoves some heavier cuts of wood into my arms.
At one of Nadine’s dinner parties, an Algerian linguist explained that, “English, you know, is a language of nouns and names. French is a language of verbs. For example, there is no ‘listener’ in French, but only ‘one who listens.’” Yet when I enter or exit a room in French, my comings and goings can be expressed through a long list of verbs requiring special conjugation. That special list was what first caught my attention in French classes so long ago, some sort of special conjugation code for the movement of entering and exiting. I try to explain to the linguist my own fascination with learning the French language. “Ah,” he responds, “But English is the practical tongue; you were born speaking what is a great tool. You can go anywhere and do business with anyone!”
What if I’m not in business, I wonder; what if I just want to sit around and talk? “It’s great, isn’t it, to master the two tongues? To be able to name and to move!” the Algerian exclaimed in a tight, formal sounding Oxford accent, raising his glass of wine in a toast to language. I raised my glass to his, a soft ching between us.
Across the living room Nadine discussed her constant surprise at my knowing “how to love all things that are good” with the linguist’s wife. This is supposed to be an instinct innate to the French, it seems. I calmed Nadine often by claiming my mother’s family’s names of Lanphier and Mulleneaux (originally from Belgium, not France) proved my entitlement to this knowledge. To be French is to be born with a highly-developed sense of cuisine, of fashion, of lovethe linguist’s wife agreed.
Frequently, throughout my twelve months, I amaze French natives with my appreciation of their food, my hate of Big Macs. Never mind that I am a vegetarian, it must be because something within me knows what good is, understands that something so simple as an omelet can take an entire day to make. I don’t buy their philosophy, seeing it more as a justification than a reasoning. Taste, of course, isn’t something that is learned, the linguist’s wife insisted. And she loves Roquefort! Nadine exclaimed. I didn’t bother to clarify that I grew up eating Maytag Blue Cheese from my mom’s hometown in Newton, Iowa, or that it’s often exported eastward across the Atlantic at many a French chef’s request. My French blood wouldn’t fill a teaspoon, but apparently I’m passing on some level. Of course I will follow Nadine through the woods and eat the meal that is found there. Of course I will sit on the sofa and nibble crackers while the tarte aux oignons cooks in the kitchen. Of course I will swirl my Bourgogne in my glass and first take a good inhale instead of a good gulp. I am, after all, a guest. What isn’t based in politeness and respect is based in a curiosity and patience with a language and a land not my own.
“You seem to be doing well here,” the linguist remarked. I answered with a sighing, “J’essaye!” Really I wondered, enviously, if I ever would figure out how to sort through all the words in my mind masterfully, if I would be able to move back and forth so easily, if my time here would attain such fluency.
Inside the cabin Nadine stands at the stove, her back to us, keeping the mushrooms moving slowly in olive oil. Marie first clears off the crusted cereal bowls we abandoned this morning, and then sets the table. The children roast chestnuts over the large stone hearth of the fireplace. The chestnuts sit next to the fire in a wide pan, their warm nutty smell mixing with the wet, wormy smell of the mushrooms. Lisa motions to me, this time needing me as an adult to pick up the pan with the oven mitt and distribute the first round of chestnuts. Each child holds a newspaper cone for me to fill. We sit on the floor, each of us with our own steaming cone of chestnuts.
Hugo shows me how to peel apart the slick outer layer with my thumbnail to get at the inside. Soon my nails are full of crisp chestnut shell and soft chestnut meat. The chestnut looks like a brain outside of its shell, flesh colored, ridges in it like veins. It’s almost too hot still to eat, but I pop it quickly from my fingers to my mouth and chew on it with my mouth open to let out its steam. Hugo laughs at me as he does the same, our mouths giggling twin vapor-filled “oh’s.” Besides its heat, the chestnut is sweet and chewy, sticking in the grooves of my teeth and at the top of my palate like peanut butter.
“Les français sont fous!” Nadine says to me, smiling, as she sets the platter on the table. My lesson in the craziness of the French is only beginning. We’ve spent the entire day, from eight a.m. until now, nearly nine p.m., working on this omelet. It lies long and golden, oozing on the edges, and with each slice more orange and brown mushrooms tumble out. Marie brings a bare long baguette and a bottle of wine, red of course, from her duffle bag. “Voila!” she exclaims, grinning as the cork pops.
The mushrooms are incredible, the trumpettes d’amour chewier and weaker in flavor than the cèpes. Nadine transformed the cèpes from felty scraps of something into beautiful brown, tender, woodsy-tasting slices. They lie atop the egg on my plate as if they belong there, comfortable and knowing. I suck on both types of mushrooms like candy before swallowing and taking another bite. All that’s left on the platter after we’ve finished our good sized portions are a few bits of mushroom swimming in a shallow puddle of egg and mushroom juice. We each push a corner of our bread into that juice, to get that last bit of flavor, and then stare sadly at the empty platter. Cèpes, I savor that word, cèpes.
The next year I will taste their absence in a plain egg and cheese omelet. I’ll struggle, back home in the States, in telling this story of finding the cèpes. The weekend in the Parc Nationale des Cervennes with Marie, Nadine, and their children will rest one of many stories I translate every time I tell it, pausing over words like “porcini” and “trumpets of love.”
Even though Nadine sends me home with 40g of CèpesChampignons Secs, I’m never able to find that taste again. I’ll rehydrate the mushrooms, wait and hope as the dried wood-chip looking bits plump up and turn the steaming water brown. Of course they won’t smell right, won’t taste right, will seem lonely without their language, their wine, their homeland. They’ll wade disappointingly in a Porcini Mushroom Soup recipe prepared for invited guests who proclaim, “Delicious!” Of course my tongue tastes something different, a memory floating far away. The leftovers of that soup disappear into the back of a freezer. The half-full container of dried mushrooms will sit on a kitchen shelf, in various cities and apartments, for years; a reminder that there is more to taste than the food itself. The specificities of memory aren’t so easily transportable or so easily translated from one context to another. There is remembering, there is missing, but the recreation consists of ingredients too subtle, too sneaky to capture into something as easily eaten as a soup.
A gray space will exist between the American English words I use to retell the finding of the original cèpes and the actual memory of that weekend in the Cervennes, a space through which anyone is welcome to fumble. If the literal meaning is forced my words will stand lacking, proud, and openstill gaping where the meaning tries to seep through. I try to step to one side or the other. I try to find the shade of difference between the words I speak and my memory. Somewhere in that shade, in that space, is what happened. A French word, “le décalage,” will stare at me from an article on my desk back in the States, pushing me to look it up in my giant Le Robert: Dictionnaire de la langue française. I’ll find it to be a masculine noun meaning to be a disaccord between two things or facts, an interval between two places, spaces, times, tenses. Again, that’s only a translation, but it’s close.
The linguist almost convinced me that French is a seemingly lazy language that overuses its nouns and adjectives to name many things that seem different from one other in American English, but perhaps he had fallen in love with my language the same way I’d fallen in love with his. It’s easy to focus on the inadequacy of the original language when finding such joy in discovering unknown tastes and emotions in a new one. But I find comfort in the openness of that standard definition of a masculine French noun; it leads me back to tastes, ruins, memories of my mouth. I want to remember the taste of that omelet, the smell of those mushrooms, the fluency of the words I found there. I’ll think of those funny orange fungi and remember how we all stepped cautiously, picking leaves one by one from the ground so as not to tear or bruise the mushrooms that might be found there.
Seasons and memories pass and I watch the words that grew so familiar on my tongue go flying, watch them fly mid-air aimed toward a landing space, the back of a throat or the interior of a nose, while somersaulting and twisting in a teasing resistance. The memories of the movements and tastes of sounds hang with a certain hesitancy, a certain expectancy, like the calm tension within an egg about to crack, or the sound of a church bell rung twice, then not again, its echo sitting flat in the air. The tastes sit there, waiting. They weasel their way onto my tongue, imprint my palate; their inflections marinating sets of consonants and vowels as I try to portray them using the context of a language in which I’ve never tasted them. Did I really eat those words, savor the softness of a pineapple? I am telling you that I have.