If you were that woman, sitting
every Friday in the public library, one week working
through the whoand how and why
of simple questions whispering from your tutor’s lips,
the next week learning priceand pay and sale and save
and How much does it cost?—
if you were that woman,
then you, too,
would ask for repetition of bag and back and bank,
of leave and leaf and left and live,
and you would struggle to produce the English sounds
that held the meanings you still held
inside your head: the dappled murmuring of leaves
outside your childhood home, the trees
full of sweet yellow fruit you could not name in this new life,
the lives you left so you could live,
and as you moved your lips in all the unfamiliar ways
to make the sounds your tutor made, she would nod
and you would smile, but you would never
write, for you’d not yet know how
to form or read those fast, firm letters you watched pouring from her hand,
and so you’d have no way to store what you had learned
except in memory and hope,
alongside memories of why you’d never needed written words
in your native world, where your mother had taught you all the skills
of planting and harvesting and weaving and singing that you would ever need
for living in a lush, good place,
and alongside memories
of gunfire echoing beyond the trees,
of rebels begging for or stealing food,
of soldiers from some distant city standing in your
village, barking about loyalty
and able-bodied men,
and then the memories
of jungle paths for five long nights,
of sharing food and whispered hope with others who had dared
to flee,
and the memories of the daughter and the son, both
born and grown high as your eye in the refugee camp on the border.
The English words would nestle in amidst
all this,
get lost, be found again, and you would have to try
to pull them out but leave the rest behind, try
to let the new sounds tell you
not only the hard-edged names and places
of this brick and concrete life,
but also how to live in it:
how to take
a city bus, how to
pay for
and you would sit again, again, again
in a mauve chair at a round table in the library,
amidst the shelves and worlds
of words,
struggling with your whoand how and why,
and you would not allow yourself
to figure how much it had cost
or how much you still had to pay.
You would just smile and thank your tutor,
and come back
next Friday.