The Word of Bernadette : Anna Crowe


That pretty, petulant face. I can still see her –

blue eyes, black curls flying – dancing round me

on the flagstones by those big, shady trees

in the school-yard, flicking questions at me

about England: a place I remembered as pale

and drab, back-gardens watered down with rain;

a polite sameness of brick, (and, somewhere, surely,

my new bike and roller-skates, left behind).

What did she ask me, and what did I say

that brought her to a shocked standstill?

It was wiped out by her cry: C’est un mensonge!

What is this word? I move closer, wanting

her to repeat it, and she flinches, thinks

I’m about to slap her but, Qu’est-ce que

ça veut dire? I ask (a useful phrase).

Poised for flight, she flings out, Que c’est pas vrai!

Accused of lying, I should be angry

but, mensonge, I murmur, mensonge;

testing those vowels that could slip,

become mon songe, though only if I say so.

I take my word to share with the unknown trees.

Note: un songe in French means ‘a dream’, and un mensonge is ‘a lie’