Paris at 20
Alone, I went to museums and drank coffee,
ate chocolate crepes for breakfast, and dreamt
that a man would come show me the world.
On the Metro, I found Jean-Charles—
handsome and dangerous, wrapped tight
in his blue jeans—and followed him
along the Seine, where we drank wine all night,
my French quickening with every sip.
We kissed hard in the rain and ran fast—
drunk and wet—six flights up to his flat,
a dark room with a fire and floor pillows
made for taking off clothes. At first,
it felt good, and I wanted him—wanted it—
until I didn’t. My bra wrapped around my neck,
my underwear waded around my ankles,
and I wanted out of his arms, of that flat,
maybe even Paris. I tried to struggle free,
to tell him “no,” but Jean-Charles didn’t
understand the urgency of my English:
“Quoi, Quoi?” he kept asking, “Quoi, Quoi?”
He breathed French vowels into my breasts,
pressed his thumbs in my back—an explorer
thirsty for foreign land. How could he know
what was wrong if I didn’t? How could he
know I needed a taxi back to Le Marais,
to an old flame, now a drag queen doing cabaret
at La Cage Aux Folles—baubles, feathers,
lip-synching in French— who, with his face
in cold cream, offered the safety of delicate
arms, late at night in Gay Paris.
Cindy Milwe is a writer who lives in Venice, CA. Her work has been published in many journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry East, Poet Lore, and The Georgetown Review, among others. She also has poems in two anthologies: Another City: Writing from Los Angeles (City Lights, 2001) and Changing Harm to Harmony: The Bullies and Bystanders Project (Marin Poetry Center Press, 2015). Her poem “Legacy” was selected as the First Place Winner of the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing’s Parent/Writer Fellowship, and another poem “Hunger,” was chosen as First Prize Winner for the Myra Shapiro Poetry Contest.