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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Too Scary

“Come with me to Turkey. I’ll pay your ticket.”
“I don’t want to go to Turkey.”
“Why not?”
“Because it’s too scary.”
“Oh, come on! It’s too scary for you, but you’ll let me go? Look, I know enough Turkish, ISIS is getting weaker, and it’s just like Europe!”
“ISIS could be down to one person and they would still be able to take me.”
“Come on!”
“Why are you so afraid to go alone?”
“You know…because it’s ah, way too scary.”
“I thought you were this big world traveler.”
“I am! That’s how I know the difference between being safe and being sorry!”
“So why are you going?”

“I already bought my ticket.”

“Yeah. You know, I told you not to do that.”

I just won’t be an aunt

I wish I didn’t have any time to waste in London

because now I’m forced to outright admit

that I’d rather see that Turkish girl I partied with when I was twenty

or even that Italian clerk I danced with in his cafe the last time I had a layover in England

than to reconcile with my brother and meet his first baby

and that even though the first two options have proven unavailable

and I’ll have so very much time to fill

I still won’t do it

Surprise! This shit is expensive

I can’t believe how much money

I’m spending to go to Turkey

The price of vaccinations alone

Was almost enough to send me back to the hospital

How do you say oh my God in Turkish again? Tureng?

But every couple of years

I tend to shock myself with these excursions

So I guess I like the surprise

More than I want to have savings

It’s a New Life

What is it about travel that is so like a mosquito
stricken with malaria who sucks all the blood
in steady dew droplets from a friend
who would once have offered me her arm
to climb across the snow banks
not caring when our boots flooded
in a valiant search to hunt and gather the ingredients
rosemary, chicken broth, eggs, rice, and lemon
to add a warm glaze to our storm

but here, it’s happened again with a different woman
droning the same infectious narrative
like sap, her blood for me drips slowly and freezes
as the smile on my face does
when I see that she’s finally written me
then spares not one warm, friendly word
only that she won’t come home again
and isn’t that exciting for her?

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.”