Tag Archives: France

Purge

There is something stopping me. A cork lodged sideways in Sauvignon, I feel like I am eighteen again, prying that pressed bark from dark glass with a fork. Using every object but the real thing to remove the blockage. Like my young hands leveraging the fork, I try to find substitutes.

Yoga in the morning, reading again from the Charlotte Bronte novel I can only digest piece by piece, long sips of coffee, pulling the caffeine behind my eyes, bus rides to unseen corners of the city. All these forks I try, but I am a firm believer in not forcing myself.

I never want to feel writing as that proverbial monkey, and I don’t want the comfort of losing myself in lyric to slip from my grasp. But as with any love, roadblocks in my writing deserve attention. This is the labor of love.

I can talk the circumference of a million circles new and exciting, but I can’t quite calculate the heart.

I am in a new city, yes, but what new stone hasn’t been overturned somewhere else? To take a page from the eternal Bronte, I’ll address you, fair reader, and ask selfishly, what should I do?

Do you want more flowery drawings of nature? Recitations of journies sat on bus seats, rides on new metro systems? Imagined stories I derive from ancient paint? A ranking of the best places to place my high-maintenance coffee order?

Maybe. But right now, my pen cannot ink those words in a new way.
I want to return to these light-hearted topics, to revel in the beauty of the simplest moments I find in each day, but right now, I do not know how. Whether it is a classic case of burnout, a symptom of the sputtering broken heart that started my Summer, or a touch of that delightful writers’ block all us creatives experience, it doesn’t really matter. I need a purge.

I need to cleanse myself of all the little pieces and poems that are choking my bottleneck. So here is the cork, the pieces I am spitting out slowly, the pressed oak I’ve dismissed in previous posts and I am finally coughing from my throat.

The Three-Year-Old Paper Clip I Keep On My Pocket

something so small it becomes a feeling
something your eyes learn to ignore
unnecessary information, unworthy of sight
until it’s gone.
it’s the opposite of an aberration,
whatever this is,
but just as eerie when it leaves.
I can feel myself growing more abstract
each day I spend in my own world.
one day I’ll be modern art,
that red square
selling for millions to millionaires
who purse their lips and whisper to each other,
“do you get it?”
“I do.”
they lie,
their gold bracelet wrists bend under sculpted jaw,
and they nod because they think there is a point.
but what makes art but the lack of words to describe what we feel.
we fill in these gaps,
hoping some arrangement of letters or colors will unlock meaning
like magic.
what if my art is just this filler?
will you need magic to understand me?
I’m not hard,
not expensive.
I’m as simple as a toddler paperclip,
bent and flexed around a flap of denim.
the denim is not important; none of this is,
but it’s the piece of silver that makes it worth it.
the glint of metal that makes it mine,
so special in the way it sits, ordinary.
arms in shallow spread,
reaching to hold onto something important.

Growing Pains

I miss the morning moments,
when my body grew different each day.
Time spent discovering the curves to my edges,
realizing what my body could do,
where it could stretch,
how it could bend,
learning the limits to my bones and
how they snapped as I broke myself
over a crack in the concrete.
Now I only grow inside.
New synapses accentuate the curves of my brain.
Knowing my body and teaching it to others,
I learn what their bodies say and what they mean
breaking my insides
over the cracks in their promises.

Self-Gratification

Do I write for the love of watching
my own ink line the page?
Do I love the control of curling each letter,
a tendril of intention?
Is it that I want to see
my words stick to each other,
cursive delicacies I gift myself?
This self-indulgence in letters that breeds
pride in violating their classroom rules.
Am I addicted to the smile that clicks ignore
on red underlines?
All this is more modest
than screaming my name in a crowd,
but hardly humble.
How can I feign humility
on the sanctity of the open page as I
grip it, host myself spilling forth,
and ask you
read this.

Here is the Truth

One month of stamina burned through
everything I ever wanted,
but I am still here. And
I am paranoid,
for the first time in ages.
I think about him constantly
& drink about him often
all over again,
after weeks of solace.
What if I just drown myself
in Red Wine and Aperol
rather than sun & steps forward?
I think I hear Rush on the loudspeaker,
but to be honest, I hear my own voice louder.
Asking if I can just let myself drink
until my lips choose another’s
over another glass of wine
& maybe if I were younger, I would.
Or if it wasn’t just me,
a world away & alone,
perhaps I could give in and not sit
solitary & sober.
What glory of stupid youth this would be,
to go to the same Mexican restaurant
across from my Austrian apartment
& order €2.50 drinks all night
until all I know is walking home.

The Same Words I Hear In My Head Each Time I Walk Outside

Listen to the timeless symphonies of leaves on leaves
See how bark liters the same space
where sprouts reach their green heads from hours of shade
Or watch the soft plummet of curled brown arms
as they break from steam
These are the lyrics, the only real ones
Silver circles signal away birds from their garden
Blinding my eyes with each turn of the wind
How slow can we break from ourselves
How many times can we break from blindness and return to it
Forsake our own cycles for this natural reverence
and curl back like fetal flesh into ourselves
each morning

The man with the pink cast looks over his lashes through the window

& at first I was offended.
Another male figure taking the liberty
of a perfect view of me,
sat up & prettily in the sun,
eyes tracing pages and lines.
Now, caught in glance myself,
I can’t help but sit straighter.
Easy voyeur, performing myself for him,
smile curling with my pages,
slowing my throat as I sip my coffee,
eyes caught on his in earnest.

Land of the free man & home of big britches.

these stomachs stretching
50 buttons til they pop
some strained more than others
plastic flying one by one
while some hold on by white thread
fortified by the twisted integrity
of a population who defines the word differently

its time for new clothing
whoever said classic doesn’t go out of style
was lying to cover a country with bleach
so all would ignore the big eyesore
the oozing from the same ignorant sores, from the
elbow, where all come together,
resting against its own skin
unable to see how it rubs itself raw

When I Was Afraid of Spiders

my spine crawled at the sight
eight legs pin pricking points along my back
a myriad of eyes sparkling into mine
toes curled at this contact.
Now arachnidan figures hanging loose
from tented ceiling don’t shake me.
Instead, my eyes close and rest easy,
spine riddled rather by the harsh reality
of the rest of this sleeping-bagged world.

Where are we Ourselves?

I am most myself in a crowd
If I fall, here, it is real.
There are eyes to see and mouths to laugh
as mine do,
at every folly. But
there are two beings inside of me.
There is Caroline,
made & maintained
by all those who see her.
She is beautiful & happy
red-faced & laughing.
Then there is me,
and I have no name.
I am just a something,
something that comes from inside.
I stare with Caroline’s face
& debate the center of being.
Am I her brain?
All her intrusive and intrinsic thoughts?
Or am I in the face?
The identifying cue to her name
that feels different each time it burns into our retinas.
Or is that just it? Am I her eyes?
Trapped in these green iris depths,
at the glittering point of our envisioned world.

Red Wine Lips

I want to lick hers, over there
or his, just the same
red & dripping- fresh & warm- flesh & wanting.
Do you think they would mind?
If I drowned in cherry & took the headache like a pill,
blue first, then swallowing the oxidized color
choking on the glass.
Do you think they would care?
If red passed between us, like a secret.
If we looked the same
& the slices were just stomped grapes
sinking into the anemic feeling
sinking into the barrel, aging.
Could you tell the difference between us,
if you only saw us from inside
pressed and trampled fruit.
I’ll blow smoke over us,
if she is me & him & I watch all of us,
dancing
there, with flowing hair & drenched trousers.
Can you tell which exhale is warm air,
and which is air burning?
Can you tell who I am?
Red.
Like a fallen apple, but those can be green too.
Ripe & ready to be juiced,
I am all the colors in between.

Just Because You Mean What You Say Doesn’t Mean You Are Telling The Truth

Bristle pulls through the gold that hangs
in tangles from my head.
Start from the bottom,
we all know this, it hurts less,
& work your way to the scalp.
Tease the strands into straight lines
like straight foreplay &
with a quick flick from the same stroke over & over
see how the ends omit a faint mist-
a second shower,
this one for dust
as it falls to the floor.
I wish I could live there,
be a single strand floating
in the post-soap soft cloud where all is
washed & not red, scrubbed & not raw.
I want to glow from places other than my hair.
From that empty hall inside,
the space I must gargle and rinse out of me
with salt.
Spitting out its pieces like the second mist
of spring snow.

Remodels

when we assaulted my childhood bathroom
my father and I armed ourselves
with hammers and saws and sandpaper
first we stripped paint from the walls
layer after layer
we peeled pink after purple
and took back the yellow I asked for years ago.
I grabbed hammer in the iron-clad grip children seem to possess
& wrecked havoc
broke walls into their naked beauty,
smashed through the second door that made everything too small
all while my father sawed in half
the tub we could never bleach white enough
and from the empty space I pulled
powder and nails before we paused
looked upon a paper cup with plastic straw
preserved by working hands in the hallow walls of the room
long before I was built

Construction

climbing over you is nothing
but building a wall backward
taking plaster from planks
pulling on that pink cotton candy
that’s where you are,
you are the fleshy fiberglass
sparkling at me with your supposed soft
that cuts each hand
reaching for your false pink.

Cesson-Sevigne Break into Reality

It has been less than five days since I arrived in my new home, Cesson-Sevigne, a quiet town nestled just outside the larger metropolis of Rennes. I can already feel the loving sprouts of familiarity winding, filling the space between me and its local virtues.

Its morning smell of bread and butter, the quiet rustle of voices outside my window, and the soft breaks of rain that permeate the streets with nature’s aroma.

My apartment, above the bakery of my employer, looks over the slight street and onto the butchershop, bustling with morning deliveries and the day’s local rush. Just around the corner is a store for home goods and tea; single-seat tables dot the space outside and beckon passers-by to peer inside. An old church stands in angled antiquity over the small market square.

Just down the road extends the bridged entrance, welcoming me with shallow waters and a cobblestone path meant for entrance by foot, bike, or car; all transport small enough to be the same. Stones pierce the water’s surface alongside patches of flowers and tufts of mossy green.

It has taken me longer than usual to write of this entrance. With my laptop sent on its merry way for repairs, I have found myself without my natural motivation. There are only so many times I can write fresh and alive about the cobblestone, stone walls, stone bridges, stone everything. Yes, France is green and beautiful, and it is enough to choke my throat with my luck, but how many ways can I say grass before they are all just words we all glaze over as we scan my next post?

I am craving something new, something real, or at least more authentic than the typical introduction to my next village. It’s still true that my eyes trace the nature around me with an attachment to the ethereal and earthly details, and my mind winds with a million ways to say this is original love, but I will be here for a while. There is plenty of time to languish in the details.

Boarding the C6 bus takes me to Rennes’ center. The wheeled journey travels along split pavement that breaks for the river’s channel. My gaze trades this view for my book as I avoid the stare of the man who insisted on speaking to me at the bus stop.

Plath

I am looking at you, Sylvia,
and your page gifts me some solace from the man
who stares and talks at me
though I don’t meet his eye.
Just because we board the same bus
does not mean we have anything in common
but the same slow ride to the center.

I see gray dot his beard while
I wade, barely ankle deep in my 20s.
What does he expect me to say
when he tells me he speaks very little English
and I lie,
saying I speak no French,
none at all.

Why does he ask where I live,
and why am I so polite that I reflexively ask his name
when he asks for mine?
Why did this instinct grip me, Sylvia?
Why do I prefer my discomfort to a scene at his expense?
I don’t want to make things worse,
so I let him do that.

I choose the single lonely seat,
he cannot sit next to me, so he sits across from me.
Of course he does,
I asked his name,
didn’t I?

I see silver on his left ring finger, and
I feel his eyes on my hands as I write to you.
The corner of his eye wonders
what could I possibly have to write?
What could be so pressing I must avert my gaze?

Sylvia, what makes the difference
between him and the other men
I try and understand.
I met one yesterday and gave him my number,
gladly,
with a real smile.

But he waited for my grin and gaze
and did not insist on everything.
He did not continue on
after I had stopped talking,
after I barely started.
He did not rise with me at my stop,
exiting the doors behind me and calling
the name I let him learn.
He did not trail my brisk footsteps,
or make me shake with anger, pepperspray grip in my pocket,
or press through my truthful answer.

No, I do not want to get coffee with you, no.
There doesn’t need to be a reason,
but he needs one so he can understand.
His one-track mind can only fathom my lie.
I don’t want coffee with you,
and he waits for the because.
Because I have a boyfriend,
I don’t Sylvia,
but thats the only because he knows.
Back off, he understands now,
not because I am my own and don’t owe him my presence,
but back off,
because
I am already another man’s property.

And Sylvia, what is respect but between two men?

Men are the same in every country. I try and brush this off as I continue on my way to the bookstore, checking over my shoulder every two seconds to make sure he’s really gone. He is, as far as I can tell, but I still feel every presence around me like a threat, and it is too early for this. 10am? Jesus Christ.

I’ve calmed down by the time I make my purchase, an English to French workbook I will attempt to instruct myself with as every real course is too expensive. Though finding an affordable course has proved difficult, I refuse to be discouraged.

If I dedicate myself to reading french books, completing workbooks for grammar, and speaking to as many people as possible in a day, my comprehension and expression will surely improve. Saying yes to the kinder Frenchmen who ask me to coffee can’t hurt either, though I spend half these dates nodding along, smiling when they do, and repeating a casual “ouias, ouias” every so often.

Regardless, dating is good practice, and it’s fun to play along.

Like most cities at the end of Summer, Rennes is littered with construction sites. Work trucks blare loudly down the street as yellow and orange vests circle city craters. These swollen trucks crowd the small aisles of the street and are often circled by police cars.

Besides my usual disgust at their presence, I also possess a new fear of these officers due to my french employment and lack of visa to extend my stay in the EU.

The three-month limit has crept up quickly and prickles me with that familiar flighty feeling that screams, “you’ve got to go!”

But I don’t want to. I want to stay. I want to learn this life for a while.

My visa will come, despite my stress, and a WWII caveat extends my legal stay from three weeks to two months. Still, my spine shutters with uncertainty.

Nothing Dire

This is the message sent & delivered (quietly).
The message that pops through the apple ether & sprouts
with an earlier time stamp on my mother’s phone.

Nothing dire, but call me.
Nothing dire, but tears are threatening me in this cafe.
Nothing dire, but my life is kind of perfect- and what if it’s taken away?

Are the cracks beginning to show?
I fill their hairline fractures shallowly, like makeup
over a bruise, just enough so I can squint & ignore & look
upon my other features.
Can I see them spreading,
like a network of roots beneath me,
perhaps.

I am so afraid of water’s presence,
next to anything with an on button.
I’ll dry, you can cry on me,
but don’t you dare juice an apple,
not while my fingers rest on its keys.

Why must there be passports,
why visas & contracts & cameras.
tracking tracking tracking,
marking me for taking up space.

I am so petrified of the police,
even though I am young & innocent &
if that isnt enough, I’m white.

I’m not illegal,
not yet.

Nothing dire, but I can hear hooks’ crocodile hunting me.
Nothing dire, but my stay is a ticking time bomb.
Nothing dire, but it’s counting backward until I am a violation.

An aberration for my presence, but
I just want to live free,
somewhere off cruel soil- off my soil.
That dirt, colored cruel because I know too much.
Give me fresh, clean soil! Or if not,
give me mud marked ancient & wet
by tears I do not understand enough to join in the crying.

Nothing dire, but I need new ignorance.
Nothing dire, but just for a moment.

Chambery Charm

Though my reason for this morning trip to Chambery is far from ideal, as I sip my Cafe Glace, I can feel my bones loosen as the city’s charm works its magic on me.

So much empty space reaches its body from market to market, from boutique to cafe. Ancient cobblestone polished by the tracks of over 700 years of foot traffic. The light steps of locals trace these ghosts of Sovie’s 1295 kingdom capital, and it is hard to be upset about my little tragedies.

My waterlogged laptop, the bike gear tear in my jeans, the broken teeth of my expensive wallet zipper, and the never-ending soap drama of getting prescriptions in a foreign country. Okay, I am still upset about the laptop, but really, I shouldn’t be.

How many people have trampled over this very spot with no grasp of what the word laptop could possibly mean? How many trousers have been torn from ankles here? I am lucky to have coins to spill from my wallet, and experiencing another country is a gift I will never regret.

Privilege checked for the moment, my mind can wander from red roof to gray tower, awed by the morning mist that enchants Chambery’s center even further.

I can see eras of petticoats catching on the stone underfoot. The same stone clacked by horseshoes and soothed by wooden wheels for hundreds of years. Ivory canes stamp the places in between, and language passes like a human symphony. Moss grows in tufts along pale walls and collects in green patches where stone and cobblestone make their corner, forever.

Amid the regular chatter, my ears pick up on the sound of English from the table beside me. I overhear one woman, dressed in green beaded lace that travels from collar to floor, telling her knit sweater companion that “you cannot truly be yourself in front of others. That is simply the performance of self.”

I have heard this remark before, and though I have previously decided it doesn’t strike in me a complete note of truth, it does spur delicate digestion of the words.

Staring

Which me will I dress in today?
I flip through endless hung selves in mirrored closet,
What does it mean to perform for others?
Is the self another? Does the girl I touch from inside count
as a swollen head, tracking the movement of her limbs? My limbs.
Do I have to belong to anyone?
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder,
but what if it’s not beauty but being?
We belong to our beholders, to the eyes
wandering along scrubbed skin. The eyes that
climb the length of our bodies & burn our image
in the back of our retinas, just like science class.
You- there. The you that is me,
the one I see in flipped phone camera,
do you see me- some faceless puppeteer?
Or is it her you see? Pretty & Confident & Smiling
at the lens. The same being regarded
by marbles, inlaid in friendly heads.
They have seen so many girls.
Spent years seeing a teenage basket case
and observing an accomplished woman,
watching a comic, a sad girl, a girl full of laughs too late at night.
Do they mean their words when they purr them to my ego?
When we smash our faces together and smile?
There is nothing to do but laugh at the other eyes,
the yellowed and bloodshot who whistle
from mut mouths.
Twisting unintelligible words through yelps and howls.
They see fresh meat walking- how miraculous- an object
they window shop and wish they had the year and money to buy.
Even their selves are elusive. A moment
changed by the next, but this I know.
All staring eyes trace the outline of my back
and imagine what lies beneath. Sometimes
thin and rumbling ribs, or a heart beating & bleeding
fresh and blue, still a lace cage of bone. This I know.
I am a woman,
shaped by those who see her. Owned
by all versions of the truth.

This weekend, the 17th and 18th of September, France hosts the “Journees du Patrimoine.” In Chambery, the celebration of French heritage means that their historical attractions are open and free for the public.

Aside from the buzz of museum patrons and sightseeing families, the town swells with the typical Saturday traffic of its weekly market.

The pedestrian square overflows with vendors of all kinds. Large cheese trucks with flagrant fair, vegetable tables bright with organic orange and local green. Other vans open their doors to hanging meat, and farmers create castle walls from crated chickens. The hens scream through beaked mouths when his rough hands bind their red flailing legs, and I can’t help but cringe away from the sound and sight.

It feels so cruel to shove life into cardboard boxes, even if the strapped and peddled journey leads to a happy home, to a daily life of eggs and stroked feathers. Even if their small life serves infant hands as they are both taught about the circle of life.

It still feels wrong.

Chicks & Chickens

Is there anything worse than life in a box?
Strangled semblance of a free-beating heart.
The heart still bleeds.
Even if you can’t see it.
Even if you lock it away.
Even if you close your eyes & scream.
You will still smell iron, dripping.
Metallic nature will lick on your tongue,
the veins caught in your teeth.
This is the way of life. This is the fate
of the delicate & delicate hearted.
If you can’t fight & win with bare hand, you are weak.
Because words can’t break the force of muscled arms,
elbows locked around necks stop the sound from echoing.
Words are latent. They slither,
poison like Eve’s serpent.
Lingering in that empty space between ears & biting
after its smart tongue has been severed.

A walk through the loud market brings me to my true objective, the Musee de Beaux-Art de Chambéry.

Entering the former grain hall, its sliding door entrance lacks the awe of the paintings inside. Mounting its three flights of stairs and resting my eyes on painted canvas and wood, I begin to enjoy the quiet beauty of this Savoie art.

The museum houses a small collection of art from the Middle ages to the 20th century, focusing on beautiful renditions of the region’s landscape and religious paintings. The landscapes are soft and understated as the religious works boast gold and violence in their typical fashion.

Among the others, one painting stands out for its subtlety and elegance, despite the hints of violence that lie beneath first glance.

Judith Presentant la Tete d’Holophere Vers
Mattia Preti

Draw violent lines into soft curves.
Light reflects on faces from imagined source,
but the faces are imagined too, and
aren’t we all?
All our digits & prints just figments of some God’s imagination.
Some say life makes no sense without a Him,
without their voices singing hymns to Him in the sky.
But isn’t that the point of all this?
Nothing is meant to make sense, nothing is meant to do anything
but live.
Isn’t living all the more magical this way?
What is living but a waking dream of life?
Our dream. Our life.
Our violence and our severed heads
rolling.
Who’s to say that is the end?
Perhaps like stars, our souls burst into that same dust of being.
Perhaps our faces come home as the earth takes flesh from bone.
Isn’t this more magical than heaven?
Isn’t nature more righteous?
The rivers that chisel rock & the drops that dew our skin
are followers of no right or wrong.
All they know is stardust. Gravity,
the buzz of perpetual motion inside ourselves,
the falling and severing of molecules,
love & hate stirring between lips & hands
is just movement.
All the same, as we are.
It all gets kinder
if we stop straining to know anything for certain.
Some things just fall from the sky like rain,
all bodies are flooded with dust & some self we named soul,
and life just flows,
leaving rocks & the rigid behind.

Camping at Detente et Clapotis

Violet petals lay delicate betwixt my fingers as I weave stems through each other. Birds sing their presence over the lake that laps like a tired tongue over pebbles, smooth with the softness that only comes from years of kissing the same water. Boats row gently over this blue pool and circle each other in arched loops, their waved tracks meeting and breaking into new peaks.

It is moments like these that I question my unwavering commitment to city superiority. This peace of nature seems to smooth my bones and carve new ridges in my brain- for what is true that cannot be observed in such Eden?

It is easy to sink into the tranquility of this afternoon.

Focusing on the task at hand, braiding my flower crown chain, I can’t help falling back into childhood memories of Nebraska field kingdoms and woven inaugurations with my sister. Her chubby three-year-old hands breaking stems and my heart with that childhood beauty always accentuated by time.

I’ve been thinking about us a lot lately, tiny Elizabeth and lanky me, as I take my post as a live-in nanny for two weeks in Chambery. The young girls, two and four, drive me back in time and send sentimental memories to the forefront of my mind as we embark on school days and camping weekends away.

To go back and feel that youthful version of freedom is a pipedream I would curse if ever felt to fruition. A warm idea, but I am thankful to lay on the coin’s other side, fingers tracing flowered memory with the real freedom of tracing any thought to its end.

Kids.

Let’s tuck our shirts into our sinched pants
& flip our small bodies around metal rungs
like kids do. Limbs flying in unrehearsed circles
& eyes open and seeing everything below reality.

Let’s tell the truth like kids do, say
what you mean because you mean it.
No hesitation- just pure unadulterated thought,
baked just long enough to travel head to tongue.

The fountain of youth isn’t a fountain at all,
but the dissolving colors behind pressed eyelids.
Dizzy heads and sticky fingerprints collapsing.
When did we trade drugs for what is just below closed fist?

This pilled fantasy of bursting universes
is never quite the same.
It smells of chemical static,
that chalked taste that giggles us into our youth.

We can still be kids in the way
our eyes close together.
In the way we cling to the ceiling
& imagine a life upsidedown.

Have tea with me here.
We can use the fan’s wings
as spiraling seats,
& the center bulb as our kettle.

I’ll pour you invisible light in hanging cup
& you’ll pretend to taste
because I say I do,
& it’s true.

This empty gulp of conjured air breathes
down our necks & we are okay
because we think love is a song
our parents sing to us.

I am happy because being a girl means more childhood choices.
How sad for you trapped in two-legged trousers
when I can trade them for dresses, blue and pink make violet
if I feel like it.

Who knew the world wanted my choices to end in fashion?
Thank god for the 21st century, not perfect but malleable,
but do I mean that? I do, I think.
Yes.

But let’s stay here,
where the future means walking on the floor,
letting gravity seep into our pores, spitting love back in the cup,
& finding temporary happiness in cocktailed playgrounds.

As we rolled our four wheels over gravel, our small company arrived at the Detente et Clapotis campsite. A swift tour of the grounds discovered the perfect pitch. 

A plot of land extending under shade and spilling green into the sun. Surrounded by the cover of trees and the tan walled back of the shower building, we were allotted a balance of privacy and access. 

Quickly, we unpacked bags and boxes, snacks in metal tins and wine bottles in blue plastic coolers. 

I unfurled a gray and green tent just like the infomercials. One springed release and there lands your crawl space home. Screen portal zipped like a shallow fortress against the campsite league of ants and insects in the night. 

I can’t remember the last time I camped, at least like this. Spine straight on thin padding you close your eyes and pretend is a real mattress. Nighttime chills and morning dew staved off by the tight wind of that nylon bag, tucking your toes like a child. 

I like it. The smell of wild mint underfoot at daybreak and the smell of wood and fire burning like the setting sun. 

Finding a personal plot with an adequate amount of grass and an absence of stoney gravel, I staked my tent’s four corners and settled into this modern semblance of original life. 

Dinner was three-minute pasta, a plastic scoop of tomato sauce, and a serrated sprinkle of parmesan, perfect. Taking my pasta slow, I sat back and listened to the stream of french voices bouncing mouth to mouth among my new friends. 

I can follow most of the conversation, the subject landing, and sentiment loading, like watching a film with a two-second audio lag. My ears pick our keywords and capitalize on them while my voiced sentences are broken and basic, sticking to the present tense and walking my vocabulary around what I want to say. 

Lessons.

Where do I run when home was you but now

I guess it always lived in me. 

Mother tongues glaze over my ears in ways I cannot understand

& with you, I could say whatever I wanted. 

Your friends lapped up my words with fresh ears

while you rolled your eyes, knowing all my stories. 

These tales of the past & moments with you I want to speak

but can’t. Not for lack of memory 

but of language among this foreign present.

Here, past tense is as hard to formulate as the thought 

of you, forced to stay in past without a goodbye. 

I work. Straining my ears to hear the meaning

in words I don’t know. My mind filling in the gaps

and glazing over your memory, practicing

the living of the present. 

Château de Menthon St. Bernard

Green- it’s everywhere, surrounding the harsh stone cliffs and lapping at the castle’s feet. Red roofed towers point their sharp skulls through the fog and break the rolling air, cascading across rocked edges. 

It is easy to see why this Chateau was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Red paneled windows and painted roofs send me instantly to my childhood and the joyous promenade of flags and families at the start of the film.

As if the castle’s appearance wasn’t impressive enough, the structure dates back through 23 generations of the Menthon family. Originally built in the 11th century, the family of Counts continued to expand their construction into the 20th century. 

Now operating with plumbing and electricity, part of the Chateau remains the residence of the same family. The other part exists as an exhibit for tourists and locals to travel through time. 

To the left of the castle, a little garden of medicinal herbs and spices is cultivated by the grounds keepers. Labeled and manicured just as they would have been through the middle ages. 

Animals rest next to the garden, a lamb, some roaming donkeys outside, a pair of chickens, and multiple peacocks occupying the land just before the sprawling vineyard. To this day, the castle’s vineyard produces local wine, though another family oversees the process. 

Briar Roses

What would have happened if he forgot to kiss me?

And the vines overtook stone with their binding arms,

thorns prickling my hem through the open window

Would I be overgrown?

Would my nails grow long beside my idle limbs,

my hair cascading in knots across the bed and onto the floor?

Would I spill over the edge, and would we be buried, 

living but not quite alive?

Would you take me now, as your prize?

Mount my flower on your wall of corpses,

I’ll stay pinned and pretty, I promise. 

Forget my string of lovers and 

I’ll forget yours, I promise.

Before you call me yours, I will be,

placing your lips on mine, you claim me.

This is how the story goes, 

you marry me with silver inlays

and introduce me to pearl’s mother.

Prick your finger on my poison

and it tastes so sweet. 

You have me, but we will never have

Absolute serenity, only this hovering peace.

Love close enough to touch but not to grasp; 

compelled affection cannot hold with closed fist.

This freedom lies just out of privileged reach.

With a small group, we made our way through the Chateau’s most historic rooms. Starting with a small courtyard, the open air was lined with passageways and balconies above. 

The small doorways and petite hallways stood out, reminiscent of the smaller figures that occupied these halls centuries prior. As such, our modern size made it difficult to shuffle from room to room but ultimately allowed us to slow down and appreciate the antique details of the castle.

Reaching the Menthon family’s personal chapel, I took in the intricate medley of stone, wood, and gold. A site of tranquil devotion, the small room holds artifacts and art through multiple centuries. The ornate robes of religious officials are kept behind glass alongside golden chalices and open ancient texts.

Next, we entered the kitchen. Slightly larger than the previous room, it resembled the courtyard with wooden passages forming a triangle of open air. 

One oven and one table took most of the kitchen space, with two cavities carved into the floor and covered by thick glass. Filled with ash, the cavities operated as pseudo fridges in the early centuries. Kept cool within the building’s stone, the compartments remain close to freezing year-round. 

Though the kitchen’s limited appliances and layout were thoughtfully constructed, its location within the castle was not. Placed on the opposite side of the family’s dining room, the designers remedied this problem by burrowing a service tunnel that allowed servants to propel meals through the walls with a system of pulleys and tracks. I’ve never seen anything like it. 

As we ascended the tight, circled stairway, we were led into my favorite room. The library.

Over 12,000 books lined the floor-to-ceiling bookcases, all dating back to before the French Revolution in 1789. I was in complete awe. On a table rested a book of law documents, open to a page signed by King Louis XIV.

Three walls bursting with books were completed by the fourth wall’s wooden mantle, telling the story of St. Bernard of Menthon in eight parts. Thought to be one of the first residents of the Chateau, born in 1008 and passing in 1081, St. Bernard boasts a life of incredible charity and religious devotion.

The legend goes, St. Bernard was engaged to a rich heiress, but knowing that he desired a religious life, his father locked him in his room before the wedding. There, St. Nicholas appeared and instructed him to jump from the window. 

Heeding his advice, St. Bernard lept from the open window and was immediately caught and carried to Aosta, Italy, by an angel. There he helped build hospice structures for pilgrims and anachronistically healed patients of the black plague. (The black plague occurred in 1348, 267 years after St. Bernard’s death). 

At last, he returned to the family castle, where he was forgiven by all.  After, St. Bernard rose to the rank of king in heavenly paradise. 

Moving on to the great saloon, one can see St. Bernard’s supposed room and the fateful window just to the left of the room’s grand fireplace. 

The center of entertainment and relaxation for the Menthons, this room also charts the family history through portraits and paintings of its members and their various coat of arms. Aside from St. Bernard’s chamber, the great saloon also hosts the room occupied by the Counts of the 19th century and a smaller saloon where many objects of the last century rest. 

Moving toward the Countesses’ bedroom, we observed a slightly grander chamber with wall-to-wall tapestries and a rather petite bed. Redecorated in 1820, this room was home to the Countesses of Menthon over the last few centuries.

The bed, slightly arched and small, was built in this way due to superstition at the time. It was thought that lying in a flat position was reserved for the dead and was therefore avoided by the living. Negligibly creepy bed aside, I was impressed by the attention to detail that stuck to every part of the room.

Wooden cabinets were inlaid with gold and mother of pearl, carved intricately with delicate strokes. The tapestries depict scenes of the surrounding nature, and in the corner lies a dress ruffle owned by none other than Marie Antoinette. 

The grand finale came with the pilgrim’s room. An expansive said to house those who journeyed far to see the site of St. Bernard. 

Equipped with a small oven, religious paintings, a long table set, and ancient arms, this room maintains a communal feel that has no doubt extended through the ages. Helmets above the mantel date back to before the 9th century and the construction of the castle itself.

Exiting the Chateau, I remained in awe. The sheer beauty and integrity of the castle rival anything I could possibly imagine in America. 

Chateau

Guarded & Silent.

Stone cage & Gold chain.

This is how you find me. 

Make me home.

Clean my bones & Paint me pretty again.

Carve your crest into my arms.

Cover me in quilts & Stamp my hands with new ink.

This way, I’ll never really change.

You will

Grow gray & Sag skin.

But all I need is polish.

Bury yourself & I’ll take care of the rest.

Your body a bulb 

I will surround with water.

What a beautiful history

you can have with me.

My limbs may fall

but what do I care?

They’ll be mended in next bulb’s bloom.

More parties & calamities will ricochet inside me,

but I will always love your blood

run through any veins

I will hold your tired body with mine.

For the Love of Annecy

Welcome to Annecy, a village as tranquil as its name. 

With an abundance of natural beauty paired with an overwhelming share of local history, Annecy stands as the perfect embodiment of French serenity. 

The leaves whisper age-old secrets under the shade of the Chapeau de Napoleon mountain as a collection of boats draw arrows across the everchanging hues of Lac d’Annecy. The sun, rising before seven in the morning and setting after eight at night, warms my skin and protects my limbs from the chill of lake-side wind. 

Perfect, this push and pull of light and air across my reclined body. 

Life in France is easy, though the language can be hard. In one way, it is easier for me than German, as I understand most of what is said to me. But as such, I feel compelled to speak only in French rather than simply ask for English. Thus, I am restricted to the present tense and short-jolted sentences. Mais, c’est la vie. 

Even with my restrictions, the language flows easier every day. Annecy is the perfect place for practice, and I am grateful for the opportunity. 

I am staying with family friends who have been more than welcoming (the stereotype of french bitterness is certainly false in this case), and it is incredible to get to know the quaint village in the hands of a family that has lived here for over a century. 

Words

The words, les mots

balance delicate between my molars.

Sentences running through my head

& dissolving in the drums of my ears.

Yes-ja-oui. je comprend,

mais je ne parle pas bien.

C’est difficile yet enbodied,

like a past-life memory 

begging to erupt. 

You asked me to speak to you.

These same words falling from my lips

& into yours.

Sultry, you said, the way I say

le pomme. The apple.

The sin that started it all. 

Were you the sin that started all of this?

Or was I?

Each day I repent. 

Washing and willing my body back

through time. Back, 

to when my French was not perfect

but fresh 

& you were nothing but a someday fantasy. 

Back to where I can forget 

& remember all over again.

Where I can seize the important letters 

& keep them. 

Where I can realize our last embrace

& leave it. 

Where I can teach myself the value of each moment.

Knowing these foreign affairs 

have foreign ends, 

& in their triumph find us

different as fire and powder.

A kiss we cannot consume,

my body strewn out 

& beaten by its hold on sanity.

Head swirling with words 

& memories I no longer own.

I know now, no matter what you tell me,

no infinity lasts. 

So I’ve taught my mind to collect them,

touching their bumps like braille,

for I can no longer see you.

& in this mourning, I learn

how to curve my lips into a smile for another

& to curl my tongue around what I used to know.

The city is delicate, with ancient stone lining roads built eons before their pavement was first graced by motors. With my gracious hosts, I am led through the small passages of the old village center.

We walk slowly, and this time it feels natural. I don’t mind the pace when the alps surround me, when there is so much new air to breathe, and history to be told. 

10 heure, the agreed-upon time to mount the mountain and view the lake from a new angle. 

Not too early or too late, the morning sun hung behind sparse clouds, breaking through with biblical rays and gracing us at the precipice of our ascent. 

It was only after twenty minutes that I began to sweat, and as they say, when it rains- it pours. Soon my breathing turned to panting and excitement turned to concentration on the rocks and roots forming a natural staircase ahead. 

Thankfully, another twenty minutes of this uphill battle brought us to the summit. The grand reprieve of open air and picturesque landscape. A panoramic view of Annecy and its surrounding villages that encircle the magnificent lake of the same name.

Incredible. 

The clearing where we found our rest used to be home to a great hotel and restaurant. Patrons would take a boat from the Annecy city center across the lake, where they would mount a cable car to complete the journey to the mountain’s peak. 

The building imposed upon the edge of the cliff, boat-like terrace facing the water while windows inside allowed guests to look in every direction. 

Unfortunately, 2001 brought about the destruction of this impressive structure. Now the flat-topped peak is home to three benches and a sign signaling the past existence of the hotel. Concrete posts erupt from the earth shallowly, like an echo of what once was. 

There, I sat. Closing my eyes and breathing in the fresh, thin air exhaled from the forest around me. I thought about all of the people who must have sat just here, centuries past, looking at the same view. 

Peak

How many legs and fingers

have crawled up and over this edge?

This green-faced mountain with

tumbling chin veering over its own body.

Beard long, clustered, and wooden,

Swinging and singing with the breeze.

And when it grows too long, the crest

purges its lungs with fire,

Charred ash floating like clouds.

This air is not for you or me,

this thick smoke means go,

But we never listen. We stay,

slicing through skin and bone with serrated edge.

Taking the silent severance of limbs as a sign of progress.

Building and breaking over stony back,

climbing again, where we are doomed to fall.