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ESL Class, In Wartime

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Wow-- it's been way over a year since I've posted on this blog. That makes me sad to see, but I also understand why I'm not blogging like I used to. Quite simply, I can't. I used to write openly about parenting and my kids, and I just can't do that anymore. The twins are eleven now, and Clayton, thirteen. They would immediately read whatever I dared to write, and so could all of their friends and classmates. As much as writing about our family helped me to make sense of our lives for so many years, I want to respect my children's privacy.

I miss sharing here, though, so here is my first attempt at changing gears.

I want to share a poem I wrote recently about a poignant moment in the English Language Acquisition class I teach at AB Tech. The college was welcoming a group of refugees from Afghanistan, just as Russia was bombing Kyiv. This is what happened in my class. (Names have been changed.)

ESL Class, in Wartime

When the refugees arrived

from Afghanistan,

the students swiveled their chairs

into a circle

and I wrote in black marker on the board:

“My name is . . ..

I am from . . ..

I like to . . ..”

When it was Natalie’s turn,

she began, “My name is Natalie.

I am from Ukraine.”

“And you like to shopping!” a classmate called out, teasing,

and her husband grinned and nodded,

pleased we knew her so.

But, at Ukraine, Natalie had dropped her face into her hands.

“My country,” she sobbed, “my home.”

The laughter folded into silence;

her husband, grim-faced now, patted her arm.

And I, master of English,

could find no words but apology.

It was Bashira who spoke,

hijab pinned around a face

perfectly made-up, for this,

her first day in English class.

Self-taught by Bollywood films,

she didn’t falter,

cast her comfort out

across this room of bare-headed strangers.

Suffering knows suffering.

Loss is loss.

“It is okay, ma’am,” she said, again and again.

“It is okay, ma’am. We understand.”

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