The Goddamned Girls’ Pantoum

This poem is inspired by a line from Charles Baudelaire’s “Damned Women,” one of the works originally censored from his famous collection “Les Fleurs du Mal.” The pantoum is a Malaysian poetic form brought into Western poetry by the French, in which the second and fourth lines of a stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next.

Je frissone de peur quand tu me dis: ‘Mon ange!’ – Charles Baudelaire, “Damned Women”
(English translation: I shiver with fear when you tell me ‘my angel.)

I shiver when you call me angel
I so wish I’d had the chance to say
To the twenty-just-like-me Parisienne
Who traced a question mark on her bare thigh

I wish now I’d taken the chance to say
Anything in French that summer day
Her finger pressed tanned flesh to a white curve
But I was mute, ungainly, and afraid

Anything in French that summer day
Might have shifted timelines, opened worlds
For me, so mute, ungainly and afraid;
But I withdrew, never to know

What might have shifted timelines, opened worlds
For the twenty-just-like-me Parisienne
If I’d drawn close to her and come to know:
I shiver when you call me angel.

You can read Kimberly’s translations or homages to other Baudelaire poems here: AmnesiaThe JewelsLesbos , For One Too Light of Heart and The Metamorphoses of the Vampire.

Kimberly Gladman Jackson is the author of Materfamilias (Tandeta Books, 2018) and Tesseract (Finishing Line Press, 2016).
You can connect with her on her website.

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