Learning Turkish for Ayşe

Salam, ben Georgia!

I am learning Turkish

I can say nice to meet you

-Memnum oldem-

And how are you?

-Nasılsın-

But if you are anything but fine

-Iyiyim-

I won’t be able to understand

So I will say simply

Good luck with that!

-Iyi şanslar-

and Güle güle

which means Goodbye

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The cue for your next English lesson

You are certain throughout this disappointing, lonely week
while I am dealing with midterms and trainings
that Saturday morning will be ours
the weekly reckoning of our relationship
a day on which you can reasonably expect
your fancy dog food omelet
with carrots mixed in
and a luxurious belly rub
before we explore the deepest recesses
of our local park

But this morning, you are desolate
because I wake up late and have to head
to a mandatory lecture
and because you don’t understand the phrase
Honey, I’ll be back in an hour!

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.”

The delights of English Language Acquisition Across my Three Jobs

A customer for the haunted house:

He asks, “What can I give you to gain access to your house of monsters?”

I smile and say, “I’ll take ten dollars.”

 

Teaching an ESL class on giving advice:

I prompt, “My mother is mean. She is angry all the time. What should I do?”

A student raises her hand tentatively and answers, “Could you be a better daughter?”

I say, “Ah. Yes. Good answer. Now, someone else. I am sad. What should I do?”

Another student says, “You could drink a soda.”

I ask, “Really?” He shrugs and says, “Yes. I love Coca Cola!”

 

Managing Employees:

The secretary says, “It was my birthday this week.

I brought you in some russian spaghettis and meat

from the celebration to thank you for helping me.”

“Oh, Inna!” I exclaim, “I forgot my lunch today!

I can’t thank you enough for bringing these in.”