Friday, April 06, 2012

My Favorite Foreign Language by David Kirby

My Favorite Foreign Language

"What's your favorite foreign language?" asks the cabbie,
and when I ask why, he says he knows "butterfly"
in 241 of them, so I say, "Okay, French!" and he says,

"Papillon!" and I say, "German!" and he says, "Schmetterling!"
and I'm running out of languages I know, so I say,
"Uh, Wolof!" because I'm reading a short story

where a woman speaks Wolof, and he says something in Wolof,
and the professor-y part of me wants
to say, You shouldn't call them foreign languages, you know,

because that means there's only one real language, but
I'd be saying that to him in our common
tongue, so it really wouldn't make sense unless I were chiding

him in, say, Wolof, a language in which he knows only
one word and I none. What's the best country?
Heaven, probably: as everyone knows, the cooks are French,

the mechanics German, the police English, lovers Italian,
and it's all organized by the Swiss, whereas
in Hell, the cooks are English, mechanics French, police

Germans, lovers Swiss, and everything is organized by the Italians,
which leaves out the Spanish,
though perhaps not, for the ancients say a man should speak

French to his friends because of its vivacity,
Italian to his mistress for its sweetness,
German to his enemies because it is forceful, and Spanish

to his God, for it is the most majestic of languages.
Hola, SeƱor! Okay if I put my suitcase
over here? Thank you for having me! Yes, I would

like to hear what they're saying in the other place, like "Dictators
over here" and "Corporate polluters
in this area" and "Aw, come on—another boring poet?"

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