She comes to English class at eight-thirty -
prompt -holding a stack of papers to her chest,
hair draped behind in a ponytail, free of a
head scarf. Ekbal -Iraqi refugee, mother,
wife, ten months from Baghdad. We read
together, her voice following mine, my sound
barely released before she starts her own,
drawing confidence from my speech.
When we take breaks, we talk about her husband,
a colonel training troops back home, waiting
to join her. She asks for things too: driver's training,
a stop at the M&H, an eye doctor -nothing
I can give. But I try. Open a phone book to write
an address, a number, directions, hoping
she'll hand them to a bus or taxi driver.
Her eyes are in bad shape, too. She stops
to rub them, her slender knuckles digging
at the ache that must be there, fist opening
and closing to motion the pain in her head.
I know that pain too, but it's in my stomach,
my heart even -every time she apologizes
for a missed word or phrase. She doesn't know
that I'm impressed by her courage. Courage to learn
a new language, to use what's natural to another,
to be exposed, alone, like a shell washed ashore
on rocks. Then we' II start again, some words
not in her dictionary, and she'll thank me, nod
as I explain a word without words, like charades.
And the time we studied customs, when she paused
at 'Subway doors.' Like restaurant? she said,
two hands as C's to mimic a sandwich. Oh, no, I said.
Its an underground train. But as soon as I did
I wished I hadn't, the pride in her posture, the smile,
the speed she moved to jab at the word ran out
like yolk from a punctured egg. Our time is up then,
and she asks if I'll be there tomorrow. I wish I could be,
if only to watch her pencil in the elegant loops
and fishhooks of Arabic letters. But I just say,
Next week, remember?