The Infamous Shaira

Everyone in my life recognizes

That Shaira was a very special person in my life

Except Shaira, who has reduced my importance

To the occasional Facebook message

And wouldn’t make the trip for my funeral

Let alone my wedding

But everyone is dying to meet the infamous shaira who

When asked about my time in Korea

Was always the protagonist

Even her name now brings to mind

Four or five anecdotes

Worthy of a captive audience and a fair few chuckles

Poignant silences, groans

They say they’re curious to meet her

Dying to even, and that according to my stories

There’s no one in the world like her

That she’s very unique

But the stories come less and less easily to me

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Letter to my unborn child

If I had you, my baby, when I was sixteen
I wouldn’t have raised you to be the sharp point of kindness
in the face of adversity I know to use now
I would’ve raised you to be a petulant slob

I wouldn’t have sheathed you in silken yellows and greens and reds
colors I have now come to associate with spring, along with cherry blossoms
you would’ve gotten freak snowstorms which arent really so freakish
considering how often they happen in the Marches of New England
and the shamrock shakes from McDonald’s to represent the season

you wouldn’t have even had family, except for maybe
some “uncles” and “aunts” from my NA meetings
but you would have had me

who, years after you were terminated
held in both hands, as was the custom, a shot glass
for the mayor of that foreign city I came to live in
to pour me a drink of rice wine which was so common, and so like milk
that maybe I would’ve taught you the word for it, makgeolli

yes, it was makgeolli, my darling
and if I had you when I was sixteen
I would never have drank a drop of it
but I didn’t. So now there are veils
like this one between where I lived and you didn’t

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.”

Avoiding the Bullfight

The bull is outside my apartment

he is rearing his wild, squat head with malice

he is snorting hot air in and out

from the pavement which was so hot yesterday

that the soles of my sneakers melted onto it

he is not sprawling in a dusty stall in Spain

where he should be or Nicaragua

I think i even saw him fighting in Korea

granted, it must have been on an off day

for him to be there – there are places

better suited for the bull

there are places where he can win

there are countries in which it is illegal

to slash into him – and then there is Salem

on days where people like me

don’t take their medication

and can’t get dressed

and don’t want to see a bull outside of their door

rearing his ugly, squat head

Little Surgical Devices (warning: graphic content)

“Good night, puppy.”

“Mommy? I have a question.”

“What is it?”

“Did they really hang dogs during the witch trials in Salem?”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Daddy was practicing his ghost tour on me.”

“Mmm. I think maybe you should ask your father about that.”

“But I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Well,” I lie, “I don’t know if that’s true

but the important thing to remember

is it will never happen to you.”

“Will it happen to my friends?”

 

I think about the dog hanging

on a gate in that ghetto of New York City

whose body remained for days

right next a playground

as some sort of gang warning

 

and the puppy running

around a spit in Thailand

which appeared to have

his mother roasting on it

begging and then being fed

bits of her meat. Then, in Korea

the soup with little surgical devices

hiding in the meat, the broth

 

I say, “No, of course not.

Who would ever want to hurt a dog?

Now, stop being silly and get some sleep.”

Then I lie awake, remembering

 

It was so much safer there. I was so much more ok than this for so many years.

i remember the smog in korea
no sunsets no blue no clouds no nothing
and no triggers

the blue was in the slate
of the rocks i was climbing
the waters i was kayaking
the blue was in my eyes
while i taught the children i was teaching
they gazed into them

theres too many guns in america
every time i look around
im terrified
theres too many men
intimidating
theres too many drugs
theres too much of this stuff
its just too much,
its too much,
its too much