French Exchange

I was awkward and she was beautiful —
more so than the school picture she’d sent,
which led me to believe that she was awkward, too —
so when Celine arrived in Ohio with her black hair,
olive skin, and I swear to God, golden eyes,
I had to hate her at least a little.
So she befriended my mom instead, and maybe
it would have been better if my mom had visited
Caen and Paris the next summer, not me, because
I was still as awkward and she was still as beautiful.
But there I was, so I dreamed in another language
of flaming skeleton men playing violins in the sky,
and I went topless when I shouldn’t have gone topless
(I understood the permission but not the grammar)
and double cheek-kissed people needlessly.
Here is the old man in the wheelchair
on the cobblestones, playing a Casio keyboard
where maybe you expected an accordion.
Here we are at, What’s it called? The place
with the artists, not far from the white church
where I heard a busker singing, Cecilia, 
you’re breaking my ‘eart? (A stranger gave Celine
an ice-cream cone just because she was beautiful.)
Here I am, topless on a beach in Deauville,
about to get the sunburn of a lifetime. Here I am
on the plane home, wearing new clothes
purchased on street corners, trying to figure it out:
how to be a whole new person in my same old life.


Today, dVerse Poets Pub prompted us to write poems about travel.




28 thoughts on “French Exchange

  1. Oh the lives of exchange students and their families. The expectations and then the realities. We do remember these moments — and I’m quite certain grow from them. I’m thinking she is back home….and thinks of you some days and thanks you for the experiences you and your family provided. Some moments we blush to remember. Some moments we treasure. Growing up is not an easy thing to do. Thanks so much for sharing! You’ve described these moments well. I especially liked the disappointment of seeing a Casio keyboard instead of an accordion — dashing the romantic thoughts of gay Paris!

  2. I have French cousins, and I remember how awkward it felt cheek kissing back in the 70s before it got chic… It wonderful how a place changes because of who you are when you travel… Paris was so different when I came there intrerailing, and then a few years ago i felt at home..

  3. I really enjoyed the way you conveyed the awkwardness of being a teenage girl. I remember it well – and it didn’t have to be foreign beauties who made me feel that way.

  4. Thank you for sharing the feelings of inadequacy in your youth. It is something we all share. Your memories still show the sharp edge only burred slightly by time.

  5. It is amazing at how in different phases of our lives, we all have had these times of insecurity and ineptitude, of being ugly. Mine didn’t come about until I was 30. Like you, I would change myself if I could. Thank you for sharing this trip back into your past.

  6. Marilyn, I am deeply, deeply touched by this. It is, by far, my favorite of your beautiful poems so far. I am heading back up for another read. Seriously love the voice in this, so much.

    “I dreamed in another language…”

  7. SMiLes.. i’m led her
    by prompt of your French
    Exchange travel.. remembering
    my Cajun Grandmother.. a business
    lady with Foreign Exchange College age
    French Students to stay at her home..
    where it appears
    she served
    more than
    dinner and a place
    to stay.. as rumor goes.. sMiLes..
    dying at 69 but living every day as youth..
    i suppose we have
    something in
    common too..
    mY Paternal Grandmother
    and i.. only difference reAlly..
    i kept the first spouse at home..
    and never exchanged her as two twenties for a 40..
    only.. as
    of course..:)

    • Thanks, Sue! Their meals were different, that’s for sure. Lunch was the biggest one. Breakfast was nothing much, and dinner was very late. All their chip bags were like our snack-size ones … and they shared them!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s