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Ideally Learnt French for Eavesdroppers

by Brian Baldi

The presidents are lonely. The presidents are
self-absorbing. The presidents want to use the guichet
automatique, but cannot be unfrozen until I tag them.
This is hard on their tendons.

          Oeuf? says the waitress.
          Oeuf, say the presidents.
          Frozen until tagged otherwise, I say.

Forty-three blue jays visit the presidents in the
hair sections of their heads. Some sections are
smaller than other sections. Other sections are
basically not even sections. The presidents are all
reluctant hosts. 

          Oeuf? says the waitress.
          Oeuf, say the presidents.
          No cameral ouefs, I say.

The presidents make come-hither looks at the guichet
automatique. I know they want to give it their codes.
The presidents want to touch the guichet automatique
and choose the right language. They want to be
thanked for their transaction. They want to hear the
spinning drums.

          Oeuf? says the waitress.
          Oeuf, say the presidents.
          Nope, I say.

The presidents oh man the scenario and the sun, but
remain untagged. Waitresses become the definition of
spinning around, and the guichet automatique becomes
the definition of historically being there, and all
that can be heard is oeuf, oeuf, oeuf, yet the
presidents will never be tagged, and will never push
the sides of their forks down upon yellow
midsections. I smoke about it for twenty minutes.
Okay, all day. I smoke about it with the fur traders.

Author's Note

This was written at an outdoor cafe table in Montreal on a spring morning in 2007. The sidewalks were wet, and the sky was bluer than blue generally allows. I had three different beverages in front of me, a croissant, an egg, some grapefruit, and some cantaloupe. In the presence of a different sort of sovereignty, a different sort of cultural tenor, and a different sort of breakfast, I began to write about gaps. I imagined being the only one at the cafe who was not a president or a waitress. The presidents were lonely and yearning to have meaningful contact with the French-language cash machine because our president at the time seemed irreversibly distant and uncomprehending, at best, and I often entertained hopeless fantasies that he wanted otherwise. That mode of fantastical thinking probably accounts for my use of repetition, cadences, and counting -- devices often used in fairy tales to structure the unlikely. The narrative, though, resolves very little. The gaps remain, but hopefully become more articulated along the way. Other narrative possibilities certainly existed, but on that day I was more interested in creating a short sequence within a moment rather than a longer sequence of moments, the latter of which would have required more deliberation and more sitting down. Sometimes the desire of the body to be in motion decides the narrative. As for oeuf, I made it the refrain because it's a soft word. There are times when we need those as much as the hard ones.

Brian Baldi’s writing has appeared in the AWP Writer’s Chronicle, Invisible Ear, The Massachusetts Review, Denver Quarterly, Fairy Tale Review, and elsewhere.

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