In summer many of the characters I employ
Lie low, so I make do with whoever shows up.
Distressingly, many of them speak only French.
They assume I can, since I took it in school
For seven years. Alas, the first year was spent ---
If I recall rightly – memorizing a brief monologue
By someone –old and perhaps deranged – toiling up stairs.
It went: Premiere etage! Deuxieme etage! Troisieme etage!
Quatrieme etage! C’est haut! I suppose I could make
Louis XIV run up and down the stairs of a brownstone
But it seems wrong to ask this of so kingly a man
Whose high heels, in any event, would make it hard.
Six more years left me a meager heritage.
I can seek help in two ways: Aidez-moi! Au secors!
But if it’s offered I’ll have to quickly change topics
Demanding an umbrella (Donnez-moi ta parapluie!)
Or humbly seeking cherry tobacco (Pardonez-moi, Monsieur;
Avez-vous tabac avec l’air de cerise?) If my characters
Have neither umbrellas nor cherry tobacco I can
Express sympathy. Quel dommage! Quel horrible!
Ah, tres triste – je suis desole!” Wait, though;
I have wronged myself. It seems I can also
Ask for a pen from someone named Pierrot
By moonlight in order to write a word.
(Au claire de la lune, mon ami Pierrot,
Pretez-moi ta plume, pour ecrire une mot.)