A Poem by Sandra Simonds

by Mark Bibbins, Editor

The Woman with the Foreign Accent

When I ask her where
she is originally from
she says, “Vermont.”
“Vermont?” I ask.
“Yes, Vermont,” she says folding each
dinner napkin into a swan and letting
each one slip from her hands as if
letting slip vowels or consonants
freeing them from a conquered language,
loosening them like feathers
from the borders, county lines,
dotted shapes of the interstate, removed
(as it were), from the ambulance
of the minor tongue, which,
in its opulence, must needlessly
justify itself over and over.

I think of my mother who says
to any passerby very proudly,
“I’m from France,” and I ask my friend
why the woman with the foreign accent
lies about her accent since my mother never lies
about being French
and my friend says, flatly,
“Because France is cool.”

What if the woman
with the foreign accent
is a Nazi and has spent
her whole life keeping her
family’s dark secret?
Or what if her father
is a monster and she decided
early on that she would
leave her mother tongue, move
to America, spend summers
on a motorcycle driving through
New England, stopping, on
the way to Vermont or Maine
at the occasional bed and breakfast
but also deciding to never, ever
get too emotionally close
to anyone she meets?

Everywhere in the hinterlands,
the countryside quakes
with regret or astonishment. The trains
and cows, the only remnants of collusion.
And when you really think about it,
everyone, everywhere
has an accent
when they go
somewhere else.
Everyone, that is, except babies.

Vermont? But, Vermont what?
Or what if the woman with the foreign accent
is a double agent? Or do double
agents even have
foreign accents? Or diplomats?
What if she’s the woman
who gave the “okay”
for the president of Poland’s plane
to be shot down? What if she’s the one
who pushed the red button
that sent an alarm so that
everyone at the factory
where they make toy trains
was suddenly instructed to leave
due to the chemical spill?
Is this how the community is spared?
Is this how the circles
of friendship tighten
into merry-go-rounds of gossip,
channels and pools of vague paranoia?

It was late in the evening and my
friends and I sat on the porch steps
drinking root beer and eating
crackers while the plump deer
of the environs chewed
blackberries. The sea,
in the background, did whatever
it does, suspiciously.

Beyond some
fence, another fence, and beyond
that fence, another fence, and perhaps
a bit farther out, something out
of nowhere lands on a house
and the explosion ripples outward
from the house to the watery village.

“Who, in the end,
stole the ping pong equipment?”
I asked my friends between crackers
but everyone shrugged
and, as a shorthand to all needlessly
tangled plots, the mystery is never solved
and word never does come back to us
from the village, except for the word
“carnage,” which the woman
with the foreign accent pronounces
“car-nich” but difficult to pay
attention to, considering tube tops
and violet leggings are back
in style and never mind
the complex drop off
pick up schedule of my children.

Let the gentle pastel rains
of Florida enable ways for us to feel
more deeply about homes, bodies,
and set them against the whorish intrigue
of book burning, the beloved
hashtags that bring us right to
the pinpoint morgue of the sun.
One must have a mind
of something. Not winter, exactly,
but something.

I began to question
why the woman with the accent
suddenly bloomed like minnows
enclosed in a globe of water, the habitat
which one could buy on the internet,
complete, a perfected love
insulated from the world around it,
devoid of class structure, of any structure
at all, in fact, taken out
of the small cardboard box
and placed on the bamboo
countertop of a sushi bar
in Seattle so the customers
don’t notice the minnows
immediately, but rather they see
an indistinct globe of water, with nothing
inside it except a bit of swaying
miniature seaweed, until midway
through dinner when, half drunk on sake
and full of salmon and rice — but this is when
it all comes to me —

I even put down my phone
for a second, savoring
the epiphany. I just know.
When the deer charged at me, I stepped out
of the way like a professional
and it ran straight
into the saltwater night.

I said goodbye to my friends
on the porch, went into the house,
walked over piles of library books,
my psyche encrusted
with wild lamentation, ridiculous
emotional excess,
obscene sentimentality.

The ping pong equipment,
neat in its white, netted bag,
sat on the kitchen table, next to
a ceramic vase of plastic flowers,
autumn colored the way a season
closes in on you, and then you look up
from the screen and it is already
gone and it felt as if, all along,
everyone was in on it,
as if the equipment
had never disappeared.

Sandra Simonds is the author of four books of poetry: Warsaw Bikini (Bloof Books, 2009), Mother Was a Tragic Girl (Cleveland State University, 2012), The Sonnets (Bloof Books, 2014) and Ventura Highway in the Sunshine (Saturnalia, 2015).

You will find more poems here. You may contact the editor at poems@theawl.com.