Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

no past tense

BY MANDY MALLOY

In Japanese, there is no “past” tense, only present and future, which makes for confusing conversations sometimes.
— response to query “Help Me Learn Japanese!” on Ask.Metafilter.com
 
 

if what the internet says were true
would I even know myself
when, in Japanese, one day
I stand in line, trying to say
“I want chicken,” scanning the menu
wondering what kana is for a stupid
feathered beast whose breasts
are delicious, who I kill
a hundred times a year
metaphorically, literally
only once, years ago
 
on a mountain
in Parma, a farm yard
where rocks complicate the dust
no grass, or not much beside the coop’s
boards the wind strips bare
a coat of paint at a time, the farmer
whose gnarled hand gestures
it’s your turn, my partner
a sinewy, red combed rooster
who struts stiffly—my turn
to do the deed the others do
 
fluently—grab, like I grab myself
by the throat at the counter—my turn
to order, cough up a few words
Toriniku o oneigaishimasu—
Basta! Pollo, vieni qui!
squawking, it jogs a jerky circle
toward the barn, the long table
we clear for the teasing of quills
from oil-gunked pores—a feather
sticks to the smeary red plastic
counter, the stenciled lettering
 
wavers, bows to the Appenine scene
of my inadequacy that returns—stunned
not dead, it jumps back to life when I try
to pluck it—GRAWWWK—the farmer
snatches its legs, snaps it like a wet towel
against a flagstone, cracks its beak, busts
its left eye—the calm of my stomach
tossed—fish-mouthing at the counter
how can I tell the blinking teenager
I want chicken, I probably
will want chicken again
 
but I didn’t, not then, no
that night I didn’t, and I’m still
not a vegetarian, though sympathetic
enough a person, I suppose—is she
getting this as I grimace and groan?—
she’s definitely not getting this—
and even if I were fluent, wouldn’t we both
still be bewildered, though we understand
the difference between doing
and done—
                 memory’s bricks, the endless
laying of, the dust kicked up



A Florida native, Mandy Malloy is a poet and graphic designer currently living in Brooklyn, New York.