Ellen Rittberg
the room you took me up to
was as foreign as you were
as your name which
I could not pronounce was
as your country
object of numerous conquests

night: cold,
your car had no heat
or, you did not turn it on:
the cold sat in my lap
and attacked.
bouncing over cobblestones
we passed rows and rows
of dung-brown homes
Brueghel's burghers'.

"je vous en pris"
the women chirped
as they attended to me
in department stores
as they served me
waffles, sugar-flecked
at outside corner-kiosks
under clouds.

earlier at a basement soiree
through din of conversation
we danced
tete a tete
drinking each other in
you laughed
face tilted up
as if to the sun.

the world was on fire
a war in Israel
the winner uncertain
every moment sustained

your mother, an elegant
now-round survivor of Auschwitz
her husband long-dead
her brood a trio of trim
chic children
we danced some more
perhaps wildly
the music throbbing
and then
we were alone.

"je vous en pris"
the attendants said
as they stood beside me at sinks
in train-station washrooms
handing me paper towels
for a franc,
always smiling,
saying merci mademoiselle
a song
upon slightly elevated tongue,
as if they always knew me,
a woman of constant comings and goings.

in someone's apartment
we burrowed under covers
clods of dust danced
bare lightbulb, on,
your hair shone, a crest,
like a rooster
your smile
an enlightened despot's.

"je vous en pris,"
I'm sorry pardon me,
the whole country apologetic
on trains.
Brussels, Belgium: hills
round as Flemish faces,
hand-dipped chocolates,
a firm handshake
the lingua franca
the most famous tourist attraction
a naked-boy passing water.

oh the French
how they speak
high, lilting,
how you laughed, Jean-Jacques,
a high timbre, a bell.

you I can forget
but I'll not soon forget
how you tried to ignite me --
match on a windy day:
blasted match defective.

"je vous en pris"
I say to you,
if my life offends
may I serve you a gaufre

may I offer you un chocolat?

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