A Language of One by Alan Feldman


It begins with an idiot stare of hostility.

A man who bumps into us
as we’re walking hand in hand
down a side street in Marseilles.

Perhaps it only means
When the sidewalk’s this narrow
walk single file, tourist couple.

My wife checks her purse
(still there)
but I keep replaying this encounter—
the absence of any pardon!

as though the point is the young man’s invisibility
You’ll notice me now

Would my weight trump his age, I wonder,
and think about the book I’m carrying on ocean voyages
and how men, young and old, battle a typhoon,
and it isn’t always the old ones who die of exposure.

Or is he more like the typhoon?

Maybe he was at that demonstration this morning—
those flags on the plaza by the ferry landing,
those angry syllables telling me nothing,
that war dance like something from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show,
while the boats tack back and forth across the harbor.

So many languages I don’t know how to translate.
So many expressions that are untranslatable.

Is that what I’ll tell our friends when we get back?

Or will I reassure them that people the world over
are really the same, their smiles
worth a thousand words.

# # #

After teaching at Framingham State University and Harvard’s Radcliffe Seminars, Alan Feldman began offering free, drop-in workshops at local libraries in Framingham and Wellfleet, MA. Many poems in Immortality (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015), are based on assignments he gives in those workshops, and have been featured by Poetry Daily, Best American Poetry (2011), Writer’s Almanac, and soon in Ted Kooser’s column, American Life in Poetry. Tony Hoagland featured one of my poems in Twenty Poems That Could Save America. Recently he’s taught poetry writing on cruise ships going to New Zealand and around the Horn of South America. He has have a sailboat, but no pets, and is married to artist Nan Hass Feldman (nanhassfeldman.com).

Photo credit:  Terri Malone

Audio: Terri Muus


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