But officer, you don’t understand!

I braked a nanosecond before the sirens assaulted my ears
that’s how aware I am of cops, and scared
another nanosecond before my sight was taken over
by the flashing lights overwhelming my rearview mirror
which minutes before was as thickly dark as a block
of velveteen cheese gone rotten
on a strip of nearly abandoned highway
of course, I knew I had been speeding

What was I thinking? I had just left class
I guess I shouldn’t have printed those articles on Syria
I even sprung for the colored photographs
of Damascus so my students could see
but my plan was to teach fluency
and vocabulary over content
so I couldn’t explain how heartbreaking it was
and struggled to answer simple questions instead
“Teacher, what does the word homeland mean?”
I wasn’t so upset until the third reading

I’ll tell you what I wasn’t thinking of
my Syrian friend who I left on another continent
the fact that I can always go home while he can’t
partly because of the golden cross he wore around his neck
which I would finger and twist around
every Sunday for years while we laid in my bed

the before and after pictures he would show me
at his most vulnerable, after what seemed like gallons of whiskey
“Here is my bedroom in 2014. Now here is the hole where it used to be,”
both of our hands hungover and shaking while I zoomed in
and just told him I was sorry, the after photo resembling
a block of the rottenest velveteen cheese. Then I would kiss him

I taught him English and he taught me Arabic
my Korean friends outcasted me when they found out about it
while my American friends claimed to never understand a word he said
even though his accent wasn’t that thick–to be fair, I guess they didn’t
but he was sweet, and strong and lean
and I always understood what he was saying
when he said he had lost everything

now the same students who insisted on enveloping me
and all of my immigrant neighbors after our building burnt to a crisp
with cash, favors, and affection–their faces turn blank
when I talk about the plight of Syrians

of course, I should’ve planned a better lesson
but that’s why, officer, I was speeding to get home
to start planning. I don’t dare tell him I am afraid
because of the last time I was pulled over

when I had just returned to my own homeland
with a Korean license and the promise it would be valid for six months
which didn’t stop the cops from asking me to step out of the car
and acting like Korea was just something I made up
that there had to be another reason
for this strange language on my documents
they accused me of masterminding a fraud the size of a country
God, I was so frightened.

But tonight, the officer returns and hands me a warning
he says, “It’s not a fine only because you teach immigrants English
and I think that is so important.”


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