Foreign Language by Joshua Martin

Like kindergartners eager to hear
their own voices, we answer Madame’s
questions with excitement. Today,

we are learning classroom objects – une porte,
un livre, un stylo
– the nouns slowly
undressing like bodies in the small

dark rooms of our mouths, the letters
creeping naked across the floorboards
of our tongues. Though I know

she is being polite, Madame says
we are good at langues étrangères,
which makes me think of strange

and estrangement, which makes
me think of the brother I’ve
not spoken to in months in the language

we both understand. How quickly time
can make any language foreign – the words
for love mangled in the barbed wire

of the lips, the familiar sounds dissolved
at the border of a telephone – until,
like the days after a symphony,

there isn’t even the language of music
to name the movements of the body, only
a silence repeated and repeated

until absence rises in your throat
like a fire of gutturals, the words
so scorched you cannot make them out.
Joshua Martin is a PhD candidate in creative writing at Georgia State University where he teaches composition. He has published or has work forthcoming in The Raleigh Review, The Nashville Review, The Cortland Review, Louisiana Literature, decomP, Rust & Moth, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Passing Through Meat Camp, was a finalist in the 2015 Jacar Press Chapbook Contest, and his manuscript, Drinking Before the Rapture, was a finalist in the 2016 Coal Hill Review Chapbook Contest.