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.

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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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