Grade ten, up the wooden stairs, to sit in rows in the room with tall windows of wavy glass, an out of focus outside world. Ready to watch a slender woman with silver hair and crooked teeth teach language. In her French accent, telling us that learning makes dents, deeper and deeper, forms ridges in the brain, holding her fists together pressing them up to show the dent, lowering and pushing them together tight, tight to show the ridge of knowledge held by the crevasses of our brains. “Comme ça. Comme ça,” she’d laugh. “You can remember. You can do this.” Folding homework into paper planes, flying them to the warped world beyond the windows, sometimes knocking her red geraniums out, too, we made fun of her brown flat shoes, her garnet broach worn every day. We couldn’t imagine her life outside that room, though she’d shared stories of Paris, museums, cafés, a lover long ago. When we returned after Christmas, they told us she had appendicitis. The supply teacher’s bright lipstick, tight skirts, high heels didn’t say, “You can remember”; the Science teacher across the hall, all her attention.
Years later, I hear Mademoiselle Bourque’s voice in my brain whenever I fear a failure coming on. “You can do this.” The ridge holds tight. It’s then I think of her, wonder how she survived this narrow English town, and what she lost in love. What dreams did have for her life, that slender woman named Aurora, the shimmering light of dawn?
NOTE of explanation about this prose poem:
In lesson three of my online writing course, Marvin Bell says to learn to write better poetry, “Find poems that knock your socks off because of how they are written, not solely because of what was written about.”
"Pay attention to syntax, the secret of free verse." Syntax refers to word order, the grammar of the sentence, its architecture, the engine of forward momentum, the thing that ties one word to another, one moment to the moment to come.
The homework assignment from this lesson is to:
1. find a poem that knocks your socks off. (I found “Mr. Philips” by Lynn Davies, from her book The Bridge That Carries the Road.)
2. use the poem as a pattern or template to create a prose poem
So, here is “Mademoiselle Bourque” from a pattern closely made from “Mr. Philips”, with thanks (and apologies) to Lynn Davies. Please, note that my poem is a homework assignment and is not meant as a separate, publishable poem. It is too close to Lynn's terrific original to be considered anything but a writing attempt to learn a new form. Anything else would be plagiarism.
If you’d like to know more about Lynn Davies’ great poetry,click here