Microfiction: I dropped the dictionary

Ring on dictionary

“You’re amazing,” he says, and I laugh, and kiss him back.

“This isn’t love,” he adds.

It isn’t?

“What is it, then?” I ask.

He shrugs.

So I reach out for the dictionary, but drop it – and all the words spill out, scattering like soundless marbles. I pluck one spinning by: naive. It blinks at me. I snatch another: foolish. He unfurls a sleek deceitful, and grabs another: lying. And another, wildly: cheat.

“It isn’t true!” he says, wide-eyed, and then one floats between us like a feather.

Eybdoog is not a word,” he says.

“Goodbye,” I say.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Poetry: Waiting

Alarm clock

The minute you walk out the door,

I check my phone. My heart is raw,

Your second kiss still on my skin.

The clock is ticking. Every single

minute gained I’ve more to lose:

Your eyes, your smile, the way you use

Your lips. But now the only face

I see is on the wall in place

Of you, with sharper, crueller hands

That tickle time and trickle sands.

No messages. You haven’t rung.

It’s been too long. My heart is hung

On tenterhooks, and I renew,

Refresh, reload, and wait for you.

Obsessing whether you will text

Will only leave me feeling vexed,

but I know I’ll be clinging on

Until I see that “Inbox (1)”.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

 

[For the Oxford Words blog:] Is Polish the most difficult European language to learn?

Krakow perspective

How ethical is it to start working in a country where you don’t speak the local language?

Before I started teaching English in Poland, this question didn’t trouble me in the slightest. When I taught in Sardinia, I spoke enough Italian to get by; and nobody in Cambodia expected foreign teachers to speak any Khmer at all. But Polish is inna para kaloszy (a different pair of shoes) for me as a British English speaker. On the one hand, it almost sounds vaguely familiar (Polish is now the second most widely-spoken language in England) and at first glance, looks deceptively approachable (unlike Russian, Polish is written in the Latin alphabet). On the other hand, its sibilant shushes shimmer past my ears without me being able to understand a single word. And when it comes to speaking, even common everyday words look like a collection of leftover Scrabble tiles: where do I start with wszystko (all), jeszcze (yet), or even cześć (hi)?

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[For the Oxford Words blog:] Why learn Italian?

Cala Gonone

“Marjorie!”

Sighing with relief, I looked around the rows of old-fashioned single desks, wondering who the unfortunate Marjorie was. Our fierce and flame-haired Italian professoressa was picking on lone students to perform grammatical acrobatics. It was eight o’clock on a dark December morning and my Introduzione all’italiano module was not going well.

Marjorie!” – poor girl – “dico a te! The third person plural imperfect subjunctive of redimere, now! In a complete sentence!”

That’s when I realized that everyone, including the professoressa, was looking straight at…me. I was (apparently) “Marjorie”. At that moment, impaled on the imperfect, I did indeed ask myself why I had chosen to learn Italian on my year abroad (as well as realizing that introduzione might not translate culturally quite as expected). And yet there were dozens of us in that optional class, tackling the trapassato remoto. Italian remains the fifth most widely-taught language in the world. So why are we all in love with la bella lingua? To find out, I asked some friends who have all studied Italian at some point to tell me why they chose this language in particular.

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[For the Oxford Words blog:] Lost in translation…so I was: adventures in Irish English

Cliffs of Moher fort

We were lost – having turned off a brand new and completely empty motorway that cut across the lush green hills of the West coast of Ireland in a quest to visit my Irish mother’s third cousins twice removed. So we finally pulled up next to an old road sign, which confusingly said:

 Knockroe           Knockroe

My English sister turned on the satnav and said “OK, tell me the name of the street.”

“Sure Knockroe hasn’t any street names,” said my mother.

“Postcode? Everyone has a postcode!” tried my sister, frantically tapping the satnav which was largely blank.

“There are no postcodes in Ireland!” said my mother.

“But how do you find anyone?” said my sister, with all the exasperation of someone born in Generation Y who now finds themselves inexplicably without a signal.

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1001 Words: Zucchini Flowers

Cretan coast

Every now and then, a bus pulls up in the small, dusty town of Tympaki, on the olive-strewn Massara plain, and spits out a handful of surprised tourists on the street corner with “Change! Change here!” before rumbling off on its labyrinthine route. I wish I could say this happens every hour, on the chime of the bells in the Orthodox church, but I can’t be certain, because I am one of these tourists, blinking in the brightness of a Cretan afternoon.

Tympaki looks exactly as it did this morning and will do this evening, and in the silence, a moped whines by. In the “bus station” – a counter with a clock – a woman dressed entirely in black is lifting box after box over the counter in a harried way.

“What?” she says, looking at our timid group, all white arms and legs.

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Microfiction: I 💔 New York

New York sidewalk

Rich roast bean, the crunch of toasted bagel: I’m watching the sun slide cleanly up over the Empire State into an unforeseen blue. The breeze bristles a thousand tiny leaves of hope. My heels echo down open avenues, cool and calm, just like you. I am walking to meet you in September sunshine, through sultry spice and melting mozzarella and scotch splashing on rocks and here you are, American Boy, here you are, and “I’m busy,” you say, and walk away, treading leaves, my heart, and other trash into the sidewalk. This coffee’s cold, and bitter.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Indebted to…Italy

Terrace in Sardinia

Try this experiment: think of a word, any word, that we use regularly in English which has clear Italian origins before reading on.

Ready? It’s more than likely you’ve come up with a gastronomic term – a snap poll I took last week placed pizza, spaghetti, and cappuccino as front runners (along with ciao, which incidentally was originally a way of politely declaring ‘I am your slave’. You might want to think about that before saying it in the future.). There’s no doubt that Italian cuisine is one of the country’s most successful exports. For example, while you probably didn’t know that today is reportedly National Lasagna Day in America, there’s a good chance that you know and love the Italian dish itself, since lasagna (or lasagne in its more authentic spelling) has also well and truly earned its place on the list of Britain’s favourite dishes. Before we tuck into today’s layered lunch, however, it might be worth paying tribute for a moment to the various ways in which the Italian language has influenced English over the centuries.

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