St. Germain restaurant in late summer—
we didn’t speak the language
and the waiter didn’t care—he had
bottles of water and wine to open.
We peered at phrases from a safe
distance—listened to recordings
polished with knowing. Each
inflection a destination mapped
out in black ink. In the world
of reeking taxis and torn
luggage, we longed for empty
trolleys and swift customs agents,
for something native—uncovered,
stripped clean. Words rushed past
our ears like a false heart, uneven
in cadence and rhythm. Letters pressed
against each other—foreign, mangled.
But we conned ourselves. In school I had
transcribed the medieval into the modern,
trained my tongue to move around
ancient texts like it belonged. But even
with repetition, our voices broke into pieces,
thickened in all the wrong ways. Lips stiffened
around each blistered syllable, clinging
to the backs of our teeth. The man at the next
table took pity on us, translated the blackboard
menu from French into Spanish, pointed
to places on his body like a saint blessing
himself: head, breast, and thigh.
Our lost tongues, felled mouths, undone—
until all that remained was salt, light
and spoon; eyes, lung and moon.
Vandana Khanna was born in New Delhi, India, and received her MFA from Indiana University. Her collection of poetry, Train to Agra, won the 2000 Crab Orchard Review First Book Prize. Ms. Khanna's work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Crazyhorse, Callaloo, and The Indiana Review, among others. She lives in Los Angeles, California.