Friday, June 1, 2012

The Au Pairs

The three young women gathered
at the green park bench,
each lovely in her own way, in the
ways that women are beautiful.
Seated at the bench beside them I

couldn’t help but overhear their
European accents, that they’d never
met before. You are German, too?
the newcomer asked of one.
No, French, said the taller of the

three. From Montendre. And you?
—I am from Italy but I speak German, too.
And then the blonde, the German,
said something in her native tongue.
They all laughed at this delightful

little secret. I smiled in happy envy
at the fleeting instance of being a
foreigner in my own country.
Their charges, the children, I mean,
careened across the playground,

oblivious to this moment and its
import, if any might be ascribed.
As practiced as mothers, perhaps
more patiently, even, the au pairs
corralled the children with

gentle calls and admonitions.
In this small park that held the 
world, the women shared at least
two languages, their youth, the
responsibility of caring for

wealthy people’s children, and 
the mixed joy of a new country.
Maybe a certain worldliness, too,
that I—a well-traveled stranger—
can only resurrect from memory,

sitting instead now on a
park bench as my daughter
climbs the playground set,
imagining herself a great explorer
in distant, undiscovered lands.

c. 2012, Martin A. Bartels (working draft)
Part of my new collection, “Unlanguage.”

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