Mary Kathryn Arnold – The Girls They Speak in Spanish


Mary Kathryn Arnold is a Nova Scotian lesbian from Halifax. Editor of Rhythm Poetry Magazine, her poetry has appeared in The Antigonish Review, The New Compass, Mezzo Cammin, The Fiddlehead, and is forthcoming in If Poetry Journal.

The Girls They Speak in Spanish

for Laure Conio


pecado pecado

up down up down fast –
and and and too
two of them together on one old mattress;
the other: she thinks in French
lying on her mattress
the Spanish perfume is in the air
the air so heavy and dark
between the four of them
lying down they hear
the trees
the birds
the radio
the girl (la jeune Veynois, quinze ans)
who likes to dance in the courtyard below
Florence Florence
il n’y a pas du feu au lac

upstairs the room is small and dark and hot
the shutters are closed
but the girls – they know
the walls are lavender with their old wallpaper
they know these mattresses
these mattresses that have known so many others
Florence Florence
you will know them too

outside the window
un deux (sigh) trois
elle entends les sons d’eglise
these bells toll
en anglais en francais en espagnol
over the roofs of tuile
past the boulangerie
over Florence who is clapping her hands and laughing now

on the chemin de la vieille digue
they stopped together
la jeune fille Canadienne and the one who thinks in French
past the horses and far from the lake
their lips were dry
she points because she doesn’t know the word in English
the berries – so red
staining their lips
their skin so tanned
elles aiment de bronze
they stopped together on the chemin de la vieille digue
the mountains
reaching high all around them
when I was un enfant, there is a buisson comme ca
en dehors de ma maison
she speaks with her sticky berry stained lips

il n’y a pas du feu au lac

on the chemin de la vieille digue the men come walking
the girls they hurry back on the road
hiding their guilty red fingers

pecado pecado

in the kitchen
it’s warm tonight –
they dance here,
the three girls
Immaculada (is this the moment you live for now?)
she’s the one who lost her faith in America

here in the kitchen where it’s warm
and the music’s loud
and the girl who gives a mean massage
is here to dance with her;
those Spanish girls
Iruna – she said to them
my sister she begs me at home
to give her a massage it’s the truth
yes they believe her

they have felt those Spanish hands on their backs
rubbing sun creme in by the lake
they have seen her carrying the stones out of the yard
(she can carry two buckets)
not like the other girls
she dances with Immaculada
and Florence Florence
Oh, she can go so low
doucement doucement
She says to the one who gives a mean massage
but her French it’s not so good

together they fall to the floor
and laugh and laugh –
their tanned warm bodies
shaking with laughter on this sticky tile floor
it has seen too much dancing
and vin d’Alsace and sangria tonight
by the window Laure is standing watching them
Laure who leaves the lemon pits in her glass every night

She watches the three who like to dance.
Laure she likes to watch
and sway like that
and listen to all the different voices
she hears the Spanish and the French and the English
and the boy whose father is German
but you know
his mother is from this country
where le soleil brille pour tout le monde
he’s a good boy –
yes his hair is trim
and he doesn’t know how to dance like the girls do

and the boys they never break the glasses
(this unforgiving floor)
how many times
the glass on the tile
today it’s three
the boys they wanted to drive to Marseille
(just for the day)
they said it’s not so far we know the way
the English girls,
the one from the North and the one from the South
(you know they talk so different)
they wanted to go
yes we can take the motorway they said

but the other girls
they are happy here;
here where you can see the mountains out the window
where the air is clear (and you can walk to the lake)
here in the kitchen tonight
where it’s warm and sticky and the music’s loud

yesterday at the table
the boys they drank their bottles of rum and beer
(they don’t break the glasses)
they ride their bicycles to the lake –

they go to swim
their hair it’s trim

not like Immaculada;
she piles her hair
on top of her head
when she lies in the sun


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