Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 14
Spring 2016

[Three Poems]

by Debra Franco

Pain Francais

When I was a girl in Paris,
they let me go alone
one summer evening,
to gather dinner’s bread—by myself—
and bring it home.
So I set out, small adventurer.
Down the short block of Tombe Issoire,
onto the bustle of Alésia,
all of eleven,
string bag swinging from my shoulder,
hair cropped short,
slingbacks slapping pavement comme une francaise.
Past the two old bats in housedresses
who leaned out their window
all day long
dropping gleeful curses onto passersby below.
Past the gleaming boucherie
displaying snouts, paws, trotters, glistening tongues,
whole rabbits hanging flayed, limp culinary sacrifice.
Past the squat, rank pissoire
by the taxi stand at Rue Sarrette,
drivers pacing and gesturing by their cabs,
armpits pools of sweat,
cigarettes fighting the war in Algiers,
past the mothers wheeling shopping carts, the children
wheedling for pastries before dinner.
I knew this—
knew this route, knew this, my neighborhood,
how to pass safely,
to not be seen as other.
So keeping my mouth unconcerned, eyes haughty,
I turned into the boulangerie,
the true test.
Taking my place on line, no hint
or taint of America,
I singsonged “Trois baguettes merci Madame”

and waited. No-one looked up, or sneered
as I counted my centimes,
took the loaves,
pushed my way through, Parisian style.
Outside, I walked back
down bustling Alésia, onto Tombe Issoire,
a young girl in an old city,
Napoleon striding home from battle,
and in victory
I broke off a heel of bread
and ate it,
warm and crusty spoil of war.
Old now, I stand across the street
from the narrow brown house
of that summer,
looking for that self, that time
of wonder and power,
seeking the taste of that bread.



The house has termites. We spray,
but every five years or so, they come.
Up between the pine boards
we bought cheap from a dead school’s gym floor,
out the narrow crack in the baseboard
of the wall we painted in one weekend
after taking three years to find the right coral.
First a scout or two, dropping papery
wings along the floor, trailing a way back. 

Later, the sun bakes, the house wood expands.
They come in waves. The first time,
standing at the table, I screamed. The room 
filled with wings. I heard them screaming
too, soundless, desperate, seeking a new nest,
a tsunami of want, unstoppable. 
I grabbed the vacuum.

I got their queen once. Squirming through a 
slit of wood, swollen and glistening with eggs, 
ten times the others’ size. Über ant, voracious, 
compelled, intent on feeding, breeding, needing space
to make more of herself, to continue. My space, bitch!
I sucked her into the vacuum’s screeching mouth
and felt no remorse. Only victory, salty and rich as blood.

The house breathes us in at night. A childless couple,
best friends for 37 years. We still hold hands when we meet 
for lunch mid-week. Childless by choice, left us free 
to grow others like flowers in the pots on the back deck. 
There is no remorse, but sometimes wonder, 
when I open the door to the silent house, wake in darkness 
and don’t hear his breath, if I should miss that other life,
salty and rich as blood. The one I might have had,
had I not killed the queen in me. 


Elegy to a Husband Not Yet Dead

I watch your able hands turn the screwdriver, 
twisting screws into the closet wall, as if watching will 
transfer the know-how into me. The old thought surfaces.
I’m useless, would have hammered nails into the plaster 
to hold the hooks, and they would have fallen out
and not propped up the endless string of bags—leather, 
canvas, woven, patterned—I seem to need to keep, 
can’t throw away no matter how often I’ve culled.

The thought resurfaces. What if you go first? 
How could I live? I could never watch television again. 
Not only because the act would stir the memory 
of all the Sunday nights eating take-out cross-legged on the bed 
rapt in our two-person world—but also because you are the one
who knows how to turn the damn thing on, which remote 
goes to which machine, I don’t even know their names.
I would soon be computerless, the coffee machine would break 
and I couldn’t fix it, I’d break down in tears each time the car engine
stalled. Everything, everything would break and no one could fix it. 

Alone in my bed that used to be ours, they would find me,
skeletal and wasted, cobwebs from the spiders
you used to kill for me winding round my bones.
She died of love, they’d say, and it would be true, but also 
she starved because he always did the cooking and now he’s gone. 
And they’d look in the closet and find all those bags fallen
from their hooks, and in each one there’d be, 
without you, another piece of my shattered heart.


SHJ Issue 14
Spring 2016

Debra Franco

is a trance channel who works with clients around the world. Previously she was an award-winning film producer and author of numerous books and articles on independent media. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, David Shepard, a psychologist and author.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury