Poem of the Week*

Au Pair

by Mary Jo Salter
The first thing she’d noticed, as they sat her down for lunch
by the picture window, was flags all doing a dance
in front of houses: was today a holiday?
No, they said smiling, it’s just the American way,
and she couldn’t help reflecting that in France
nobody needed reminding they were French,

but the neighborhood had turned out very nice,
no fences, big yards, kids racing back and forth;
you could let the shower run while you were soaping
or get ice from a giant refrigerator’s face.
She couldn’t believe how much the franc was worth
and she had no boyfriend yet, but she was hoping,

and because her father was the world’s best baker
she naturally thought of his bakery in the Alps
whenever they passed her a slice of their so-called bread,
and sometimes she wished she could hire a jet to take her
back just for breakfast, but as her great-aunt had said
so wisely more than once, it never helps

to make comparisons, so she mostly refrained.
She couldn’t believe, though, how here whenever it rained
the mother sent children out without their coats,
not carelessly, but because she had no power
and nobody made them finish the food on their plates
and bedtime was always bedtime plus an hour,

so au pairs were useless really, except for the driving.
Yes, that was puzzling: after she cracked up the car
they didn’t blame her or ask her to pay a thing,
but once she let Caitlin eat some sort of cherry
with red dye in it, and then the were angry, very.
Americans were strange, that much was clear:

no penmanship, and lesbians held hands
on the street, and most women carried a pair
of pumps in a bag they never took out to wear;
it was so disrespectful, she couldn’t understand
how the older ones got called nothing, not even Madame,
but then nobody in this country had a last name

which was going to make it hard to write them a letter
when she got back. It was really bittersweet
her visa running out; she was sad that all
she’d done with her days off was go to the mall,
she’d bought a million T-shirts and that was great
but she had to admit it, saving would have been better,

and she knew somehow that when she got on the plane
she’d probably never live anywhere foreign again
which filled her American family with more pity
than she felt for herself, because at least she was coping,
she’d work at her sister’s shop and stay in the city

*I don’t find one every week, but hope to

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