Hips figure-eighting to the throb of salsa,
the Balzas sashay through their duplex day.
Bienvenue à Montréal:
the first day we visit la fruiterie and plump our cart
with apricots to quince, a cornucopia of treeflesh I didn’t know existed.
Le quartier chinois est par-ici,
et par-là, le voisinage grec, parading flags for a soccer triumph.
Me voici installée dans une garderie
avec les petits—Rania, Alyha, Anas—et un roman québécois.
The Tunisians who own La Garderie speak my French,
the kind with an accent.
En la casa, Mamie habla español.
Three years. The snow mutes our bootfalls,
stifles each double-socked foot.
My toes numb anyway.
Le chemin m’échappe. Je dois te suivre.
La neige profonde fait taire notre haleine.
I catalogue familiar houses
and startle at lawns of electric reindeer where geraniums grew.
You coach me on my accent—my tongue
runs too light, lacks the power to grind gravel.
J’essaie de mon mieux, sans pouvoir,
sans le pouvoir de comprendre.
The house at the butt of the street is locked.
Turning downtown, the decals of a fast food restaurant.
We’ve reached the end of the road, I say,
skimming the sound tentative through our ears.
Carnivorously, we two vegetarians gnaw the sizzled fries.
The path escapes me. I have to follow you.
The deep snow makes our breath quiet itself.
Melanie Bell lives in San Francisco but grew up on Prince Edward Island, Canada. She earned an MA in creative writing at Concordia University in Montreal. Her work has appeared in The Fiddlehead, CV2, Grain, Cicada, and various other magazines. This poem is about the mixing of languages on the multicultural island of Montreal.