My son is learning French and I saw the phrase "Le Lait c'est bon" somewhere in one of his workbooks. The flatness and faint ridiculousness of it as a sort of educational sentence sent me into writing this poem, which, unlike my usual agonizingly slow and abstract way of writing, just came together at once. My French father did not speak English when I was born, so in a sense we learned it together. We used to play games where we would try to baffle each other with words strange to each other. And so I think that on a certain level both languages--English and French--might always be strange to me. But I like to try to write into that mysterious space between languages.
Le Lait c'est bon
I've decided to write only in French. From here
on in this will be French. The context and the syntax
will be French. My vocabulary will be French.
Every verb and noun, every adjective, adverb, article
and, in particular, every preposition will be
in French. And there will be more prepositions
because French uses prepositions a lot more
than English does. Adjectives will often come
after nouns and "toothbrush" will instead be
"the brush of my teeth." Every noun will be
preceded by the article that should accompany
it, like a small introduction to the solidity
of objects. Language will be more exact, more
denotative, more lucid. It will have a better
relationship with the world about it. It will
not be connotative, vague and confusing.
It will not contain words like "email,"
"Internet" or "incentivize." It will not
contain expressions like "impactful" or
"leveraging resources." Instead, it will
improve our relationship with things--
they will be respected by the language
used to indicate them and in turn we
will know exactly what we are talking
about and therefore we will behave
more compassionately and thoughtfully
toward exterior reality.
There will be some words and
expressions that don't translate
to English, words like a-fucked-up-
has-created, or an-asshole-that-actually
or go kiss yourself, or the hole of a fly, or
a strawberry in slippers, or the cow, or like
a cow turned into an adjective, modifying
a noun to have the radicalism of a cow.
Every noun shall be gendered: the rug
will be masculine and the chair will be feminine.
Often adjectives and verbs will be gendered
as well according to the primacy of the noun
or pronoun. Because French has that bit
of hierarchy about it, that slight hesitation
when deciding on how formal a relationship
is to be. Again, it indicates a certain kind
of relationship with others, a relationship
not to be taken for granted, nor taken casually.
And yet, I may use a neutral pronoun
with no equivalent in English. This pronoun
gives the world some mystery, a space that
does not have to be so exact
within a language that is usually so.
Music is numbers within
time and the music of French
is somewhat like that, numbered
but not metered, counting but
straining a bit against that
predetermined abacus of line.
Each foot will stagger with the full
weight of history; a line will be a
timeline, with commas indicating
decades and endstops for centuries.
In that span it will be a language spoken
by many and uncontained by geography;
artificial yet durable, like fireworks,
fires of artifice in words to appear
in appointed spaces in time.
Marcella Durand is the author of Deep Eco Pré (with Tina Darragh), AREA, Traffic & Weather and Western Capital Rhapsodies. Her published translations from French include poems by Charles Baudelaire, Marcel Proust, Nicole Brossard, Eric Giraud and Michèle Métail. At present, she is working on a collection of poems titled The World Is Composed of Continuous Objects with Various Shapes that Can Obscure One Another.