To My Students


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Melinda Brasher has taught English as a second language in Poland, Mexico, Czechia, and the USA. When not abroad, she helps adults prep for the GED or does bilingual storytimes with kids at the  [+]

Image of Short Circuit #04

You come to my class at night
Thirsty
You want to learn English
Pass the GED
Find a better job
Prove to yourself you can do it

You dropped out of school in second grade to work the fields
Or in ninth grade to have your twins
Your father didn't believe in education
You never learned to read in your own language
You've been told you're stupid by people you love
You fear that your children are ashamed of you

You paid a coyote
Twice
Then you stood on the edges of the Home Depot parking lot
Hoping every morning for some work

For nineteen years you were a slave to your husband's pride
His need for control
His violence
You've been forbidden to leave the house without him
You've been told you are worthless
A kind word from me reduces you to tears
And I don't know what to do

You escaped from the Iraqi army
And lived three years in a refugee camp
While your children grew up thinking the camp was home

You write that the happiest day of your life
Was the day you came to America
But you can still smell the mango trees you climbed as a child
Here in this land of prosperity, of strangers
You try to content yourself
Trapped in the knowledge that you can never go home

You were a doctor in your country
But you came here for better opportunities
Now you live six to a room
And wash dishes at two different restaurants

You have starved

Your momma's in the slammer
You don't know your father's name
No one read you Dr. Seuss when you were little
You've been on your own since you were fifteen

Your accessories are tattoos
Scars raised by bullets
An ankle bracelet that will alert the authorities if you stray

You talk of parole and probation in terms I only vaguely recognize
You want a job, but that slippery shadow follows you everywhere—Felon

You attended two funerals this week
Friends turned victims of street violence

You know where to get drugs
You know where to get guns
You know how to get a lawyer
Sirens mean something entirely different to you than they do to me

You've never read a novel
Never written an essay
No one ever made you memorize your multiplication tables
But you defend yourself daily in the streets we share
The streets I've never known

I've studied at university
Lived in Europe
Worried about algebra tests
I've never been beaten
Never been desperately unemployed
Never watched anyone take his last breath

A man died in your arms when you were fourteen
Russian roulette with a shotgun

You speak words I can't understand
Across the gap between our worlds
I don't know how to answer
But our echoes mingle
And for a moment we touch

2

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Kenneth N. Margolin · ago
I thought this poem was wonderful - insightful, moving, yet avoiding treacle - not an easy feat.

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