Mandarin at the Edge of a White Formica Table
He serves green tea in terracotta cups.
I don’t like green tea, but I pretend.
On Wednesdays, after class,
I walk with other students
to the French professors’ apartment—
one-bedroom, well lit,
windows facing the university park.
We talk about French cinema.
Film d’auteur, he says.
François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard,
Jean Renoir, Alan Resnais.
I want to be entangled with all these names
in the dome of his mouth.
His lips are dry, parched.
It’s the wind in this city, he says.
I know by heart the marks of his upper front teeth
on his lower lip, like an engraving.
Roger Vadim, Agnès Varda,
Jean Cocteau, Éric Rohmer.
I go to the bathroom and open the medicine cabinet
just to see the bottle of vetiver cologne
that I don’t dare touch.
Can I help you clean up? I ask.
The other students say goodbye, I stay
and take the tea pot and a couple of cups to the kitchen.
Claud Chabrol, René Clair,
Jacques Tati, André Téchiné.
It’s a galley kitchen, narrow. On a wall, a big poster
of the movie Belle de Jour with Catherine Deneuve.
The lower part of the poster is splashed
with small, oval-shaped stains of tomato sauce.
Claude Lelouch, Bertrand Tavernier,
Louis Malle, Jacqueline Audry.
Let me give you some mandarins, he says.
His fingers expand over the fruit bowl.
He takes eight mandarins, four in each hand.
He presses them against my chest,
and I end up holding them in my arms
as if holding a baby. Do you need a bag? He asks.
I wouldn’t know what to do with all these, I say.
I may take just one or two.
I lean over the table and drop the mandarins
as softly as I can. I don’t want to bruise them.
One mandarin rolls toward the edge
of the white Formica table.
I think we both want the mandarin to fall, but it doesn’t.
Mariano Zaro is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Decoding Sparrows (What Books Press, Los Angeles, CA) and Padre Tierra (Olifante, Zaragoza, Spain). His poems and short stories have been published in anthologies and literary journals in Spain, Mexico and the United States. His translations include Buda en llamas by Tony Barnstone and Cómo escribir una canción de amor by Sholeh Wolpé. He is a professor of Spanish at Rio Hondo Community College (Whittier, California).