Last year’s today pops up in my timeline

with a look of reproach, though in truth, I’m

smiling with the gormless happiness of a man out

on the town, completely without self-awareness,

which is what I’m gifted like a shard of ice

to the gut a year later when the photo pops up.

This is what I get when I stare in the mirror

lately: the distinct impression that the other

bloke is not impressed, but is keeping it to

himself, biding his time, playing his cards close

to his chest. The white noise of Tokyo traffic

tides past my hotel window, while I try to capture

big and desperate feelings with chatty messages

home and love hearts and receive terse updates

pinged back from the other side of the world and

the stiff gangle of my son’s Formal photos,

all red embarrassment, acne and the look

of someone walking into uncertainty or their

own execution, which is the same thing, and

I realise I have no shots of you, to pop up at

random on my phone and trouble my conscience.

This is the business traveller’s lament, perched

on crisp turn-down, high and frothy as the foam

on a Sapporo, watching the exuberant slapstick

of a foreign aesthetic. All I have for a poem is

gnomic cleverness punched out of my head like a

subway train ticket: it’s easier to take someone for

granted when they’re in front of you. If you’re

not sure who’s at fault, it’s probably you.

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Foreign Accent Syndrome


The knotty folds of flesh and thought

must contain the roots of words, French and

German, tonal Mandarin, thrusting like black

icicles, thin shards through the other rummage of

our brains. Occasionally a lode’s unlocked, a

link loosened. During the war, an American pilot

shot down under friendly fire and convalescing

began talking in tongues, chatty and fluent in

his enemies’ language, but lost to his own.


It happens sometimes, a hard knock, a

rattling blow, and a North Idaho native begins

talking in Russian, the cleats of his contemplation

slipping and worn. Our hope in this is for erasure

of our common difference. Let there be a

clever Rosetta stone submersed in the wordless

babble of brain. Perhaps the young combatants

in this latest war could be made to talk? If only the

suspicion of difference could be cleaved from us.


But it’s a transitory affliction, a temporary change:

the young pilot improves and forgets his

facility, the Idaho window-cleaner falls into

coma and is struck silent. Their suspicious accents,

condemning consonants absorbed in the ineffable

scramble of their thoughts. It doesn’t matter. Though

I have always had a common language with my son,

both of us branching from the same bitter tree, we

have never been able to understand each other.

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