D. R. James

D. R. James

D. R. James has taught writing, literature, and peace-making at a small college for 34 years and lives in the woods east of Saugatuck, Michigan. His poems and prose appear in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and his most recent of seven poetry collections is If God were gentle (Dos Madres Press, 2017). A new chapbook, Surreal Expulsion, is to be released in Spring 2019 by The Poetry Box.

Read about D. R. James and his published books at: Amazon

Français Firsts

—for Priscilla

After all your dainty tales from la rue
du Tel-ou-Tel, so many elegant snippets
de la Rive Comme Ci, Comme Ça—Oui,
I am forever sheepish I never made it

to Par-ee (sauf une gare on the outskirts,
eurailing toward Luxembourg, which was
all but fermé for the Halloween weekend).
But though now you could easily keep me

down on any farm, France in swah-sohnt-canz?
Oh là là! —my version of the proverbial
semester abroad, and where un nouveau me
must have definitively begun. Par exemple,

near Nice, absorbing the glowing Côte d’Azur
then tour-busing by Monaco for Menton,
out one route en corniche and back another,
long before my paltry français could surface

fast enough to prattle with my teacher’s kids.
But un début—and it would take me only four
more largely lonely months to pass myself off
as a less evident américain, with at least

a decent accent to show for it, my being
the yogurt-eating, knows-little sophisticate
I’d become. It would be two decades before
Starbucks blitzed very many Midwest cities,

so old Grenoble’s where the cafés and bistros,
wines finer than Boone’s Farm, addicted me
to a fresh perspective, to une idée de moi-même
transcending tackle football, college fraternity,

and culture as country rock. Granted, all
the exotic side-trips did make a difference:
that disorienting week in Warsaw (still
dictatorial), those goose-steppers in Chopin’s

park; the overnighter (avec les trois femmes!)
to Italy; Geneva on weekends; Christmas
on the Bodensee (which made me certain I’d
learn German for my Überlingen girlfriend

before Italian for those gorgeous Florentines.)
But en France? So seul? And working steadily
on the concept of an inner life? It was la
première fois that I knew I knew abnormally

nothing—and that I no longer wanted to. On
the vigntième floor of my international dorm,
some inside switch had somehow gotten flipped.
Souddainement, ancient history was interesting,

the future a matter for my contemplation, my
ignorance a currency I hoped to leave behind,
exchanged for novels in two languages and grand
prospects for actually using my mind. By winter,

I could’ve stayed on through spring. And by spring,
back home again and left to reconnoiter, I began
that retrospective cataloguing that deepens
one’s appreciation—such as how a shy, petite

type from Japon and a bold, femme noire from
La Côte d’Ivoire could intersect via moi via anglais;
or how tinny, small-car traffic is more romantic
in memory; or how geraniums are le plus rouge

in Chambéry, a few blues uniquely Mediteranean,
and no whites colder than novembre over Mont Blanc.
Or how some French are rich, canadien, but also
poor, Arab, c’est à dire, algérien. And how

my world seemed now to be le monde.

—first published in Lost Enough (Finishing Line Press, 2007)

Poetry in this post: © D. R. James
Published with the permission of D. R. James