Mark Farrell

Learning the Language


She feels inferior in this country.

Her own country does not have such a rich cultural history.

She is in awe of the buildings, of the visual art and of the writers.

And on top of all that is the language! 

It’s impenetrable –

its snarled consonants,

the seemingly indiscriminate long and short vowels,

its crazed case structure…



she decides to make a concerted effort;

she buys six different text-books

(four of them with accompanying CDs).


She gives the one-week notice at her work

and hunkers down

for the week around Christmas. 


She takes another two weeks after:

just cups of soup and tap water

and loads of pasta.


Finally, cautiously, she emerges


Heads for a near-by café.


She goes in and sits

in the middle of the room. 

Orders a glass of wine. 

(She didn’t have to repeat herself.

Yes, that went well.

The waiter is off and she is ready now to eavesdrop.)


Two women and a man.


And they’re not talking about architecture or paintings or authors…


They’re talking about…mustard. 

And they’re talking about sausages.


Yes, yes, she will have another glass of wine!

The waiter backs away – he looks almost afraid.


She wants to yell after him:

They’re only talking about mustard! 

They’re only talking about sausages!


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Mark Farrell is from Nova Scotia, Canada and has been living in the Czech Republic for over fifteen years. He teaches at Charles University in Prague. Selected future publications include: Huizache (University of Houston-Victoria), The Conium Review (Portland, Oregon), and Fras (Dunning, UK).

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