Poems for the Road: “I Need to be More French. Or Japanese.” (Beth Anne Fennelly)
The following is a travel poem of sorts. Well, I suppose it’s more of a poem for travelers more than anything. Beth Ann Fennelly’s I Need to be More French. Or Japanese captures the aching many wanderlust-driven souls share: to be in that place, not this one. When I first read this poem, I was immediately drawn to it because of this shared emotion I have with Fennelly’s words. Throughout the poem, she compares the beauty of different cultures and the reality of where she is versus where she can place herself: in France or Japan specifically. I know I’ve caught myself doing that. You know, pretending the “crape” you’re eating at IHOP is actually a “crêpe” you’re eating on a side street in Paris. So, if you’re a traveler, a poetry sympathizer or anything in between, I think you will find a part of you that can relate to this poem.
I Need to be More French. Or Japanese.
-Beth Ann Fennelly
Then I wouldn’t prefer the California wine,
its big sugar, big fruit rolling down my tongue,
a cornucopia spilled across a tacky tablecloth.
I’d prefer the French, its smoke and rot.
Said Cézanne: Le mond-c’est terrible!
Which means, The world-it bites the big weenie.
People sound smarter in French.
The Japanese prefer the crescent moon to the full,
prefer the rose before it blooms.
Oh, I have been to the temples of Kyoto,
I have stood on the Pont Neuf, and my eyes,
they drank it in, but my taste buds
shuffled along in the beer line at Wrigley Field.
It was the day they gave out foam fingers.
I hereby pledge to wear more gray, less yellow
of the beaks of baby mockingbirds,
that huge yellow yawping open on wobbly necks,
trusting something yummy will be dropped inside,
soon. I hereby pledge to be reserved.
When the French designer learned
I didn’t like her mockups for my book cover,
she sniffed, They’re not for everyone. They’re
subtle. What area code is 662 anyway? I said,
Mississippi, sweetheart. Bet you couldn’t find it
with a map. Okay: I didn’t really. But so what
if I’m subtle as May in Mississippi, my nose
in the wine-bowl of this magnolia bloom, so what
if I’m mellow as the punch-drunk bee.
If I were Japanese I’d write about magnolias
in March, how tonal, each bud long as a pencil,
sheathed in celadon suede, jutting from a cluster
of glossy leaves. I’d end the poem before anything
bloomed, end with the rain swelling the buds
and the sheaths bursting, then falling to the grass
like a fairy’s castoff slippers, like candy wrappers,
like spent firecrackers. Yes, my poem
would end there, spend firecrackers.
If I were French, I’d capture post-peak, in July,
the petals floppy, creased brown with age,
the stamens naked, stripped of yellow filaments.
The bees lazy now, bungling the ballet, thinking
for the first time about October. If I were French,
I’d prefer this, end with the red-tipped filaments
scattered on the scorched brown grass,
and my poem would incite the sophisticated,
the French and the Japanese readers—
because the filaments look like matchsticks,
and it’s matchsticks, we all know, that start the fire.