The French for Death

by Helen Mort

The French for Death

I trampled ants on the quay at Dieppe, dawdling

by the desk where they wouldn’t take yes for an answer;

yes, it was our name and spelled just so –

Dad repeated it in Oldham’s finest guttural,

we shook our heads at Moor and Maud and Morden.


Rope swung from the captain’s fist

and lashed the water. I saw him shudder,

troubled by a vision of our crossing:

glower of thunder, the lurch and buckle

of the ferry. I looked him in the eye


and popped my bubblegum. Child

from the underworld in red sandals

and a Disney t-shirt, not yet ashamed

by that curt syllable, not yet the girl

who takes the worst route home, pauses


at the mouths of alleyways, or kisses

strangers on the nameless pier; eyes open,

staring out to sea, as if, in the distance

there’s the spindle of a shipwreck,

prow angled to a far country.