red lipstick means they are not for you
means you will look and wish and wish and know
they are not for you
sin slides off like piano wire.
une petite mort qui dure 12h
I know what he is going to say, but my face still crumples and I still pull him as close to me as I can. “Oh, kiddo. I am so horribly sorry.”
Running palms along each others’ backs, cycling wildly from death to birth and back again. “I mean, kids—who else will take care of you when you’re old?”
"I like to think my friends will take care of me."
"They’ll be just as weak; some of them will be dead."
"It’ll be a team effort—‘Help, I fell in the bath, can eight of you come help me up?’"
"I’ve been in hospice, I’ve seen people dying alone."
"If it comes to that, alone-alone, I’ll go out in the woods somewhere, die in my little tent. Feed the bears."
"You really want to be recycled, don’t you?"
"There’s…not enough space for us."
We keep meandering, tracing circles on each others’ skin, a game of arms and legs and words. A joke where he and my small brother prop up my aging shoulders and limp me to the woods. Because I smoke. Wrapped myself in him like kudzu vines; drifting through unexplainable dreams.
dream of loaning him my family, in all their laughing shouting bigoted kindness, of carrying him on my back on the train. the instinct to take his past between my palms, to warm it, and to be honest, to say—this is where i come from. to show off, to unveil, to confess.
I woke up too confused to think about it, the suggestion of sunlight out the slit of my window, my body still warm and slow. He’d lost some change from his pockets and two coins were still on the floor. Evidence. Tried to make coffee but my stomach lurched away from even water. Went back to bed. The family downstairs arguing while the baby wailed. “I’ll text you.” I don’t remember where he kissed me goodbye.
I don’t remember how I invited him in, but I do remember my swoon when he flipped me on my stomach, kissing hungrily across my neck, down my spine. When I woke up another boy had written god i miss you on the billboard downtown from my heart and my stomach lurched again. Washed the condom off my skin and plugged my ears with an accent that sounds like his, with a face that looks like his. I drank coffee and gnawed my lower lip. Je te carressais toute la nuit malgré moi, je te carressais toute la vie malgré toi. The family downstairs plugged in the karaoke machine and the sun went down.
i wake to grey
grey to grey
as though the sun lived still only in my imagination
tricked by my own northernliness
into sleeping through the sun.
Soon, it’s easy to talk to him. His face is a mixture of the Canadian actor who plays a famous doctor’s measly sidekick and a portrait I have once seen of Soren Kierkegaard. It is only later, sitting on the back seat of the bus as it roars by his denim-jacketed walk home, that I realize I did not miss the good-night kiss.
R leaning against me, giddy and six, reigning clandestinely over the party. It’s a conspiracy, she chuchotes, and I play along, proud to be at her side. The tiny dinosaur, a man just my size, flirts but there’s something in my feet, I want to keep moving, don’t want to confess to the tab I held tight under my tongue.
Another night, the man who disappeared like a flock of birds, the one who groaned and muttered foolishly why he waited so long to have me, the one to whom I replied that he could not, did not, but allowed the climbing into his big bed, the cold morning as I went to work, the phone call from the airport. The man who came back, kissed me clumsily as he walked off, the man I ran after only to remember, at the bus stop. Esti que t’es con.
And this morning, the new chords clumsy under my fingers, blurry memories of lying in the lap of a man who sang, Mister Sandman, bring me a dream.
Ça commence par un système d’impressions—pause to look up the word for ‘fleeting’, choose ‘fugace’. D’impressions fugaces. Des mots. Des regards. Connectées par des liens vagues, mutables—le français, cette océan, comprends tout ça pour toi. Tu les laisses passer. Tu ne parles pas, tu réponds pas. Tu gardes tes petits mots à toi, en ramassant d’autres. T’attends.
It is fascinating, language, you comment to friends. You give examples. You rattle on. You pull words into your hungry mind; you begin, slowly at first, to speak.
It is your sixth autumn in this place. Your uncle asks, still, at every family gathering, if you are fluent. Dans ta tête, ta réponse parfaite: Oui moi là, j’parle comme une osti de québécoise de pure laine là, crisse! From your mouth, a discourse on what fluency means.
Tu as déjà passé des jours sans prononcer un mot d’anglais. Tu parles-tu couramment, donc?
"I notice a hesitation in your French, an anxiety, like you want to say the appropriate thing," your roommate comments. "Like if I were to offer you a beer, you’d say, ‘yeah, totally.’ I don’t know what you’d say in French, but I feel like it would lack that enthusiasm."
Dans la ville où j’suis née, on avait notre propre langue à nous, un argot riche, une slang complète. En décrochant le téléphone, “what’s real good?” S’en allant fumer, “gonna burn a bog.” On appellait pas les amis, on leur textait pas, “we hit them up.” Quelqu’un qui faisait le fou “was wylin’ out”. C’était un peu bizarre si tu passais une journée sans avoir dit ‘yo’ au moins une fois. My white friends and I, we took certain words, stilted them, stiffened them with irony in recognition of how we were permitted to pronounce them. We stole consonants from ‘alright’ and ‘I dunno’ but never imitated the rolling ebonics of our classmates, even had our own daft additions (though thankfully I jumped ship before ‘cray’, ‘totes’ and other ‘abbrevs’ washed through the town). Some kids from the barrio peppered their English with their own hometown slang, spanish juntita with her awkward English cousin, two of em tryin to dance. From this too, we took what we felt we could, but our clumsy tongues which did not roll, did not fly, left us feeling dumb so we dropped em.
C’était une espèce de code pour quelques uns entre nous, une marque d’identité pour d’autres. On parlait un peu hood, on n’était pas les riches de la ville à côté. Ne nous méconnais pas, là. We’ll shank you.
I don’t have that swagger in french; j’ose dire that I don’t think many people here do outside of their own high school friends. The city is too big, its residents from too many places. Y’a rien de Montréal dans nos expressions connues, à nous, genre, le Québécois là. Je ne m’inclus pas, evidamment.