Because I Can Pronounce Islamabad

Seated in the back row of my classroom
they have found their way
through the second floor maze of the two story building
in the middle of our small college
built on the edge of a desert,
which, these students will later say, is familiar to them,
in that way, I would suppose, all places
that look like home feel the same—
Perhaps it’s how afternoon light falling on the floor
makes predictable patterns or
how dirt smells after a long awaited rain
when the chest tightens, then releases,
making the empty space a friend.
At first they write poems
about vampires swinging dead cats in a garden of sunflowers
while aliens eat the faces off of every human left on earth.
Tell me
about your mother’s voice; your father’s hands
, I say. Show me
the plane ride to America. Your little sister
clinging to her blanket
. Sayed looks up from his notebook:
“But no one here can even pronounce Islamabad.”
Heads bob up and down like water lilies in a storm.
Write what scares you, I say, write
about the father on the roof top getting shot,
falling off, then falling into
the arms of his wife; write about watching
bombs dropping from the sky and
that child at the kitchen window, counting;
describe the map
of a woman’s body and its bruises;
tell the story for the stranger
who couldn’t help.

Lois Roma-Deeley