“Didier et Zizou” by Chen Chen is written in breathless triplets to a friend from high school, someone with whom the speaker can be still, “dwelling in your kitchen … being moved / by each other’s stillnesses.”
The two boys (who love different genders, but are “just two variations on the theme, / horny teenage boy”) found themselves together in French class, where his friend “laughed, loud” when the speaker associated autumn with “La mort.”
The poem uses sound beautifully, rhyming “Howl & the Tao,” “tea and e.e.,” and plays with different vowel-consonant permutations and internal slant rhymes, like Trakl and darkly declarative, green tea and Orangina.
This friend to whom the poem is addressed is someone who understood the speaker, with whom he could be safe amid Madame’s “panicky autumnal rain” and the rest of the detritus of high school.
“In French / I was Didier & you were Zizou & Madame was / unimpressed, unamused. In French it was like // we’d never left your kitchen.”
Playful and pungent, the poem moves through a brief memory that lasts always, brisk autumn days that meant close to nothing but also everything, nestled in the relatively safe adolescent spaces of French class and a friend’s kitchen in the afternoon.
The poem repeats the idea of an ellipsis, even forming it into a person who enters the friend’s kitchen. The ellipsis keeps returning as a blank space, an emptiness, something not said. Something that could be sinister but in this case is made into nothing, tempered by the presence of his friend.
You never forget your French class name. You also never forget that person who was there for you, in the background, the one person who understood.
Looking back, that person was the best friend of all: the one with whom you could be uncool, with whom you could be still, with whom you could spend words.
The poem “Didier et Zizou” appears in Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, published by BOA Editions in 2017.