|Apr/May 2004 • Poetry • Special Feature|
How to be Obnoxious in a Second Language
Compliment your hostess
on her facial sutures. Then launch
into a discussion of heroines
who throw themselves in front of trains.
Explain how this is testament
to the true greatness of a nation's
literature, how the best plots
unravel in disembowelments and gore.
Tell her you have a whole shelf
of fin de siècle romances ending
that way, and you'll be happy to box
them up in paper cartons for her
when you get back to the States.
Explain COD to her
in her mother tongue.
Passing it on
Take a container, a cardboard carton,
encyclopedia full of history, or
the holy writ itself, testament
to faith or simply wishful thinking.
Bind it safe with twine or tape
or staples; suture it tight.
Never label what you've got inside,
be it the alpenglow of aspiration
over-shining these gray moraines
of city concrete rubble; or rhymes
uplifting, comic, or obnoxious,
bright or tedious as seventh grade.
Carry this package house to house,
from childbirth to separation; don't
listen to your parents echoes from
within. Carry it as if you invented
it yourself. Carry it for decades
until you're finally tired enough.
Then, see if you can open it to find
a text to pass on to posterity
with a message of your own: a foot-
note with your initials to prove
you read—and understood—before you,
like all your ancestors, moved on.