Learning Swedish in Secret as a Joke

by Bobbie Jean Huff
Featured Art: Breton Girls Dancing Pont Aven – Paul Gauguin

All this passing on going on, almost
as if it were contagious. Words you’ve recently learned
spill easily from your lips:
Wenckebach, biliary, Cetuximab, granuloma,
the new bright colors of life. Just when
you were getting bored with the
pinks, purples, and greens on offer
for almost seven decades,

you’d happily now trade blasts and plasma cells for
brown or black or tan. But as surely
and hard as you know how many platelets it takes
to sustain life, you know that
more new words will show up soon.
Months ago you learned that “consistent with” means
you have it, and, last week, that “refractory” means
the treatment has quit working.

Now that you realize you’ll never learn Swedish,
in secret and as a joke
(to surprise your daughter-in-law with at dinner time),
you understand it’s not that you’re running out of
brain cells,
you’re running out of time.
You can’t learn sjuka and middag while you’re learning
leukopenia and transampullary.

You never expected this.
You never thought it would come to this!
(That’s the funny part. Has it ever not been there?)
Wake up and
you will see it even now,
gliding merrily in your direction,
not even bothering to look you in the eye,
as if you are the last thing on its mind—and if

you squint you will notice it gather a little speed
(the teensiest of fuck-you’s),
like a sailboat in languid waters
a moment after the wind has shifted.


Bobbie Jean Huff has published short stories, essays, and poems in various Canadian literary journals and newspapers. She has been the recipient of a Canada Council Arts Grant as well as an Ontario Arts Grant, and she received first prize in a cross-Canada fiction contest sponsored by Queen’s University. She has just finished her second novel and has begun the process of getting both published.

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