Wednesday, August 8, 2018


Jenna was a friend of mine then,
not because of a shared history in classrooms or on softball teams
or mutual interests, like favorite bands or movies,
but she was my roommate in the eight-week French study abroad program,
and we didn’t know anyone else well enough at that point
to find our destined place in a smaller clique
among the fifty or so students in the program.
So when Jenna asked me if I wanted to go with her somewhere,
I said okay, and we had a good time together.
We had nothing from the past to refer to,
so our fleeting relationship was entirely focused on the present moment.
Look at that pretty building!  Look at that dog!
Are you hungry?  Let’s get a drink here.
She was much taller than me,
with light brown hair spilling all the way down her back.
She wore long flowing multicolored skirts
with white tank tops and multitudes of cheap plastic bangles
and ugly Birkenstock sandals.
She probably showered like every three days,
and picked her nose when she thought no one was looking,
but she never lacked for suitors,
both among the clean-cut American boys in khaki shorts,
bewildered by European apathy in customer service situations,
and among the locals and other tourists.
She complained of grabby hands on the train, on the bus,
in the theater, and on the public square.
Certainly no one was trying to grab me,
so although I was outwardly sympathetic,
I was also a little jealous.
Anyway, maybe a week before she met her new best friend
and three weeks before she found a Belgian lover,
to the chagrin of the program director and probably her parents,
she asked me to accompany her to the grave of her favorite poet,
no one I had ever heard of.
Jacques something?  I don’t remember.
But when she asked me to go somewhere,
I said okay,
because I didn’t have any other plans
and didn’t feel like doing homework alone in another country.
So we rode a train out of the city, which,
although encouraged by program staff and fellow students,
felt like we were breaking the rules somehow.
Then we took a small bus
and were dropped off about three blocks from a tiny, silent church.
I couldn’t imagine any parishioners had worshipped there in years.
It was a hot day, and Jenna complained about blisters on her feet,
but there was nowhere to buy bandages.
And we wandered around this noiseless, forgotten graveyard,
no birdsong or chattering squirrels to be heard,
my face burning in the sun,
my back wet with slick sweat,
trying to read the faded inscriptions on the light grey granite headstones.
Occasionally we’d marvel at a particularly old birth or death date—1742!
But we wandered that small graveyard for about half an hour
and could not find her tragic poet.
Maybe this is the wrong graveyard, she mused.
Or he probably died in poverty and didn’t have a marked grave.
Still, it was nice to get out of the city for a bit, wasn’t it?
An old man squeezed her ass on the bus ride back to the train station
and winked at her in response to her incensed glare.
I looked out the windows at the green countryside speeding past me.
For the rest of the ride home, we were both lost in our own thoughts,
lonely in each other’s company.

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