The Language of Exile


Product Description

poems by

Melissa Jones Fiori

Poetry chapbook, 40 pages, $7 cover price

ISBN: 978-1-59948-018-3

Release date: 2006

This title was selected for publication as a result of entering the 2005 MSR Annual Chapbook Contest.

About The Author

Melissa Jones Fiori was born on Okinawa and has lived on four continents but considers herself a Virginia native. She now makes her home at 8,500 feet in the Colorado backcountry with her childhood sweetheart and their two small sons. She was educated at Oberlin College, The Monterey Institute of International Studies, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She has worked as a translator and copywriter for the past fifteen years, after stints as teacher, tour guide, waitress, lifeguard, granola maker, opera dresser, conference coordinator, telephone interpreter, printer’s devil, and corporate thrall. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Backwards City Review, The New Hampshire Review, Kennesaw Review, Half Drunk Muse, Ash Canyon Review, The Greensboro Review, Swink, and elsewhere.


Opus for Amsterdam


If happiness were measured in bicycles
this would be paradise.
Amsterdam I have drunk deeply
of your crazy coffee in your ten thousand coffeehouses.
I have never been so lost
in so many streets so like
every other street
but no doorknob twice.


Great golden windows
gazed placidly curtainless at one another
across the canal. And the bluejeaned goddess
in banana curls, everything about her
turned from a sauce she was stirring
on the stovetop
to go down in history saying
We Dutch have nothing to hide.


It was Halloween, and the Americans in town were partying
with their American friends and the friends of America, and
somehow I wandered in. None of the costumes
were exactly high concept, that was okay, and the most mythical
marijuana stories you ever heard
were told: the call and response
of softswinging Dixie. Variation
on the theme:
We smoked some. If there were other
I do not remember them.

Sotto voce aside

There is a kind of lipstick
just for nipples
for broadhipped paperfaced whores
in big bay windows
and oh, you can buy the Times here too
What a wonderful place
to play at
being an expat.


Imagine the Café de Jaaren in that loose afternoon light,
in that watery womblike light of an aquarium, the myopic
floating green of soda-bottle bottoms. Yes imagine me there
in my last grand stab at art nouveau splendor.
I am seated at a two-top with Howard.
We are writing postcards
to other addressees.



Sunday evening, and I have seen myself
in the severe foreheads of the former Calvinists
in canals the color of silt
smooth and thick and murky as cream.
Leaving the pension
I hear the next-door flutist
practicing. She navigates her scales and arpeggios
at such hair-raising angles
that I stop, not daring to breathe
until I’m sure she’ll make it
safely home.

The Dubious Muse Has Certain Concerns

You have to admit that some bits are wordy.
Footnotes really have to go.
You might want to translate that one stanza in Old Icelandic.
Oh, and you used unrelenting in your last poem, too.

Does the red velvet dress on the Hong Kong whore
Signify damnation, frustration or carnal lust? What if instead
X and Y lounged on a bateau lieu, sipping Pernod
From shallow tumblers—say, in pre-war Paris?
Words I had to look up: miasma, melisma, roustabout, gorse.

You failed to explore
Loss of love, loss of time, coming of age.
Death throes and/or rattles.
The pleasure of pens
And the midwinter yicker, don’t forget that.
How the Wall fell—what happened then.
This, that and the other thing.

P.S. What’s this supposed to be about, anyway?
I don’t see my name in there once.


I could grow wings and use them to scoop sherbet from the sky.
I could shellac the cat and eat radishes only. I can eat my own life
and spit you out as the pit. From the leaves that fall before turning
I can distill elixirs of my disregard: something for you to drink while waiting
for the eyes of my dream to open.

I am cotton lace, loose from long service under a centerpiece.
You chewed me twenty-two times before swallowing.
I have stood on the doorsill and blushed at your temerity—
that was where the earthquake found me. I will not end up
in the arms of hacks and history. If I tried, I could catch
your breath.

I will learn to do the backstroke with severed hands, jack-knifing
out of each embrace. Because dreaming is my life’s work,
I will weave dung and mercury into this sweater. Wear it and then
tell the world, “Look, she loves me.” I have been so many places
besides here, but none of them seemed
to stick.

I can’t hear you shouting because a small dog is howling
in the kitchen. I stuff my pockets full of candy, ready to be made
millionaire, G-man, cosmonaut. In my lush new life
I will win at cards and refuse to share the wealth. Fat and happy,
like all good girls in all good fairytales. Sweetheart, the dream
has not yet ended.

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