I Cannot Tell

Fun to find my parody of Henri David Thoreau’s ”Indeed indeed, I cannot tell”  posted by Parody Poetry today, August 5, 2019.  I wrote this poem from the eyes of Great Guy (his name) who took care of his grandparents with grace and pleasure.

I cannot tell the difference
between my grandparents.

I’ve never seen them apart.
I’ve never seen them argue.

They’ve had 65 years
to work everything out.

Neither one will vacuum or iron
but both are happy to cook and dust.

They talk at the same time
and repeat the same stories.

I’m not sure they even know
The difference between them.

They clipper cut each other’s hair and
have taken to sporting each other’s underwear.

When I arrived with groceries this morning,
I found them in front of the bathroom mirror;

Grandma was shaving her face. Grandpa was
rubbing a nub of her favorite lipstick on his lips.

Maybe they’re losing it.
Maybe they’re lost in each other.

Or, maybe, this is what Ruth, in the Bible, means by
…and the two shall become one.

*by Elizabeth Boquet

 

 

 

The Recruit

“When my son was 19, he came home with a Harley—proud, confident, and carefree. Rather than haunting his happiness with my dark maternal fears of what-could-go-wrong, I wrote this poem.”

The Recruit
Published by Eclectica Magazine, July 2019
 
I already imagine
how they’ll tell me
as you and your 19 years
wave one arm
pull out of the driveway
on your beloved Harley.

It will be an eager recruit
about your age
with a patch of an eager moustache
who comes to the door so
it’s good I practice;
it won’t be easy on him
center stage for the first time.

He’ll remain on the doorstep
next to the geraniums, strive
to remember what
he’s been trained to say, strive
to strike up appropriate conversation.
And I will listen this time.

If he were to witness my
instant diminishment
into the joints of the tiles
he might quit then and there.

It would be better for him
to stand testimony
to my understanding,
to me slapping my forehead saying,
I always feared this day would come.
This must be horrible for you.
Come in. Have some tea.
 
We’ll sit at the kitchen table
and I will listen to whatever
the recruit has to say, grateful
to help him on his way
with a generous ear.

*by Elizabeth Boquet

Two poems, une/nue

Truly honored to have two poems – my first in French! — included in the anthology, une/nue, following the guided poetry workshops held by Jean-Marc Barrier in Caux, France. I tried to play with the crosswinds of English and French — the sounds of the two languages as they mingle and drift around me.

For the poem Aloof Moon – Lune Opportune,  I chose Emmanuelle`s painting (below) and wrote with Jean-Marc’s words in mind: « La nudité peut-elle se dire ? Comment est-elle vécue ? Quelles sensations, quel regard sur soi ? « Quelque chose nu » arrive-t’il parfois dans le poème ? Nous pouvons nous approcher de cet espace de pudeur et d’impudeur, de liberté retrouvée, et faire un parallèle avec l’écriture, qui peut être « bien habillée », ou plutôt nue. Qui suscite aussi un regard sur ce qui vient,et quel est-il pour moi, à ce moment-là ?… »

The poems below, What Ouate Is—C’est la Ouate, were written with a giggle over my discovery of the French word “ouateuse” (which I now understand as meaning something cottony-cocoon-like) and I learned the silly French song, “C’est la Ouate!”  It was a treat to write them by a little stream lined with the talented, kind — and patient! — Caux crew à La Mazarié, Saint Vincent d’Olargues, in May 2019 where Jean-Marc encouraged all to work with the concept Rêve — Dream. 

 

To Switzerland with Love, from the Watchmaker’s Wife

Well, this is a pleasant first! When  Talesmag asked if I might have something they could publish about life in Switzerland, this poem came straight to mind; I’m so happy it has finally found a good home and — as you’ll see in the explanation and photos at the end – that I have, too, along with my personal Swiss Watchmaker.

To Switzerland with Love, from the Watchmaker’s Wife
as published in Talesmag, June 14, 2019

 Dear Helvetica,

I think I’ve finally figured us out. It took long enough!
Three decades, more or less. I know, I know,
you being the quiet type means I have to go first. And I will.
But only because I’m so in love with you.
How’d THAT happen? you wonder.
Well. Since you asked, first of all,
you have the sexiest watchmakers in the world, but there’s more:

Because instead of scissors, you gave my kids knitting needles
in Kindergarten to punch along dotted lines so they’d learn
precision, perseverance, and patience.
Because you made them walk to school.
Because you made them come home for lunch.
Because you made them walk back to school.
Because you have people with The Secret whom I can call for free,
and they’ll make 32 warts on the sole of a kid’s foot disappear.
Just like that.

It took some getting used to, but I’ve learned to love the peace and quiet,
that Sundays are sacred — no matter what your religion;
thank you for insisting that I NOT mow the lawn, or vacuum,
or shop on Sundays, and for teaching me that naps and watching
the grass grow can be forms of communal prayer.

Because you’re the heart of peace processes worldwide
but your citizens can rarely name their president.
You’re neutral but have enough bunkers for the whole country
to hunker down if need be. And those army knives rock.

Because you have the only direct democracy — and the creamiest
chocolate – on the planet, and even though over half of you
have guns, shootings are far out of the ordinary.
Did I mention that your watchmakers are the hottest?
Everything keeps on ticking, no matter what — right on time
because of your dashing watchmakers. Good thing, too, since you expect
everyone to be right on time … except for cocktails,
for which you’re always 15 minutes late, exactly, which is only possible
thanks to those clever watchmaking party animals. Right on! Right on!
What I wouldn’t do for a blissful kiss from a Swiss Watchmaker!
God, they crack me up. Now, where was I?

Because you’re tolerant and inclusive, even though one in four
of your residents is foreign — including me and mine, once upon a time.
Because, although you didn’t need me to teach you French,
you asked me to teach you English and taught me how to do it well.
Because I love teaching you English. And thank you for tolerating my French.
You, somehow, manage to communicate despite
having four languages; perhaps that’s because you demand respect
from everybody, and for everybody. You even expect the world to know
that CH* stands for Switzerland and that S is for some other country.

You have multicolored carpets of Alpine flowers up there, beneath snowy peaks,
palm trees down here, on the Montreux Riviera, and watchmakers in both
who get me going — keep me going —my time would stop without them.

You’re a 5-star country, Switzerland. I get you, I dig you, and am forever
grateful to you for my personal Swiss watchmaker, who learned from you
how to create gloriousness out of each precious beating minute of our lives
we’ve created within you, and who still really knows
how to    make     me     tick.

With love from the watchmaker’s wife,

Elizabeth Boquet
*CH, the abbreviation for Switzerland, stands for Confoederatio Helvetica

Author’s Note: On July 22, 1989, it all made perfect sense. After ten years of battling French (more on that here), I’d finally won the war. With a fresh MA (French) from Middlebury College in Paris, I was on an island in Maine, USA, marrying a Belgian French-speaking Swiss-trained watchmaker whom I’d met in Spain two years earlier. As one does.

 By August that year, I was a happy bride living and job-hunting, in Bienne/Biel, Switzerland — known as a bi-lingual (French-German) city. Only, my neighbors didn’t speak a word of French. Or English. Neither did the laundry machine repairman, or the plumber, or most people I encountered. I found myself illiterate, once again. Oh, and that hard-earned diploma? Well. In the USA, it, coupled with a secondary teaching certificate from the fine State of Maryland, got you a job teaching French in a snap. For some reason, however, the Swiss didn’t seem keen on having one of their national languages taught with my personal twist — an American accent.

 To make a 30-year-long story even longer, the Swiss are known to take time to appreciate – and, fair enough, it can take some time for the Swiss to embrace others. In my case, it took about 30 years but, somewhere along the way, my husband and I grew to appreciate Switzerland and its quirky ways — so much so that we wanted to become a part of it. Fortunately for us, the feeling was mutual and the Swiss kindly accepted my husband and me into the fold. With whopping gratitude for the all paths and people who lead me to Switzerland – and kept me there, I dedicate this poem to my personal watchmaker, Jean-François Boquet.


Elizabeth and Jean-François Boquet
Wedding on Heart Island, Maine, USA, 1989


30 years later, Swiss Citizens, in Lausanne, Switzerland

 

Elegy for the Prisoners in My Study

Much fun to have this poem published by California’s Las Positas College in their anthology, Havik: The Las Positas College Journal of Arts and Literature (Spring 2019)

Elegy for the Prisoners in My Study

To get to my desk, I shuffle across parquet
made of pine trees who once swayed their days away
in faraway forests before they were stripped
naked, sliced up and slapped with varnish.

To sit at my desk, I plunk into a wicker chair
whose reeds once shilly-shallied in the breeze
somewhere balmy before they were ripped up and
water-boarded until they’d conform into appropriate shape.

To write on my desk, my glass desk, sand stretched
some sunny expanse tickled by wild waves before
it was kidnapped and cremated into transparent flatness
on which I put pencil to paper. Paper. Pencil. More trees…

I’ve taken many prisoners to create poetry.
May the trees, and reeds, and sand forgive me.
May I honor them each time I forge my way through
this forest to sit by the shore in the reeds and write.

*by Elizabeth Boquet

Reverse Musical Chairs

“Reverse Musical Chairs” was published by Stoneboat Literary Journal (April 2019)

Sundays at noon
for years
at my mother’s table with eight chairs
the seven of us sat.
We’d take our usual seats
and there was always room
for another.

That winter
the six of us struggled
to find our spots at the same table
among the eight original chairs
despite my father’s permanent absence
leaving room for two.

This afternoon
the eight chairs remain
waiting round the same table.
There are only five of us left.
We search in desperation
but my mother took the music with her;
no one can find a seat.

Birthright

“Birthright” was first published in Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing (March 2019). 

 

Back then, back there — as a child in the summer
on month-long sails with my mother
down the coast of Maine, we’d gaze east,
as far as our eyes could see, across the Atlantic.

Hey, Mom! I think I see France! or maybe…Portugal?
Oh my! Pass the binoculars! Let’s see!

She’d let me believe each island from Kittery Point
to Penobscot Bay might be uninhabited, just waiting
for exploration — or the discovery of a new welcoming land.
She let me practice possibilities.

What do you suppose they do for fun there?
I wonder what they’ll have for supper tonight?

So, in my teens, when I finally made it all the way
across the Atlantic to study in France, it was a matter of course
to fit right in with a new world and its inhabitants —
who, after all, had just been waiting for me to come and join them.

Bonjour, Mademoiselle. Comment allez-vous?
Très, très bien, Monsieur. Merci. Et vous?

Unsure where I am most foreign in the eyes of others —
there, back home — or here, in this life abroad without birthright,
I know I belong because of summer mornings
along Portuguese and French shorelines.

I still connect by looking as far west as my eyes can see
towards those Atlantic islands, grateful liquid bridges never burn.