The English Lesson

a poem by Jan Oskar Hansen

It took me a while
to find the house in Hanover street
where a resting actress was going to teach me English.

The building had the air of noble decay
and a lift operator, a retired admiral,
who was in the habit of sleeping in his uniform.
I waited in a dark paneled room full of pictures of,
once, famous British Matinee idols,
they all smiled as they just had, had
a bath and a change of underwear.

My teacher, in her late forties,
came she was dressed in a freshly stained white blouse,
long black skirt and solid walking shoes
with heels that needed a visit to a cobbler.
She had the lips of a tart
and the eyes of a bewildered nun
who had been seduced by a plumber
and when she opened her mouth
and spoke posh English, very loudly,
I sensed an aroma of whisky and peppermint.

“The best way to learn English is to read Shakespeare,”
she said and handed me a few sheets of paper.
“You’re Romeo and I’m Juliet”
She spoke her lines beautifully,
while I mumbled mine.
“Louder, louder,” she shouted
and I did till the man in the next room
who was training to be an opera singer,
stopped singing and my voice escaped through an open window,
hit a passing cab, rolled into the gutter
mingled with greasy chippy papers and cigarette butts.

When the lesson was over she whispered conspiratorially
that she always spent her days off in Southport,
kissed me warmly till she felt a stirring,
then shushed me out!
I wanted to go back next week,
but didn’t have the courage, besides
I was married at the time.