Coming Home From Home

 

What My Students Teach Me


Federico

tells me it's too cold here

but some choice.

You go out one morning,

the car hood's open a little;

three sticks of dynamite

and this is the third time.

In Salvador you take the hint:

you leave.

 

Ginny Fung

writes of the love

of her and her husband.

The first English she learned

was curses.

Those faces

she could read

in any language.

 

Cyrous

on the most profound moment of his life

writes a vague tribute

to world harmony and brotherhood.

When I question it,

he says

I am a Baha'i from Iran.

This is for my friends,

not wanting me to seem foolish.

I nod dumbly as he explains

he was made to watch

as the blades fell

and their heads dropped in the street.

 

Leong Hiu

who now signs her name Lisa

has not seen her brother

since the night

the pirates boarded in the China Sea,

tells me she likes the winter here

because when she wakes

all the white stars are lying on the ground.

 

Shatha

tells the class

I am visiting my mother after work

babysitting my sister's children

when the sirens went.

We hid under the table

covering my nieces with our bodies

as the bombs fell the teapot shattered.

Everything crashing, it seemed forever.

You were watching that night

on your televisions: Desert Storm.

 

Dan

says it began in April.

Two million of us sir,

in the Square, I was so proud to be Chinese.

I was a reporter

when the official came into the office

and said, no more stories!

I was so angry I quit.

When the tanks came in June

– we ran, hearing the screams,

too scared to look back.

Now I can no longer write, I study computers

 

Fardad

speaks of a trip to the front with his friend

who asked to drive.

We stopped for water.

I was gone a minute.

When I came out,

a missile, there was nothing left.

At the court martial, his mother screamed at me,

I should have been in his place.

 

And me,

what do I know.

I am a man on the beach

where the boats come in.

 

 

WHAT I KNOW ABOUT GERALD

 

That Gerry the name the other called him,

was too joyful for his dignity.

That he was given to days of rage

when everything was dark.

 

That he was the only student

who ever told me I was wise

the day we talked about spirits

and how the earth is a holy mother.

That he was grey and moustached.

older than all the others.

That his fierceness was a necessary force to live by.

 

That he kept trying when the others failed.

That he was an Ojibwa

from somewhere north of here,

from a school run by the priests.

That the things they did were unspeakable.

That he ran away and never returned.

 

That when I called the counsellor back,

all I had was scraps.

That she told me he was a roomer

in a place where no one knew him.

That he had a sister no one could find.

That he had tried twice before.

 

That he left a small bundle of possessions

and nowhere to send them.

That when he went down to Scarborough Blluffs

the spirit welcomed him.

That the waters of Lake Ontario consumed him.

 

That what ever wisdom I have is not enough.

That his grey eyes follow me

As I watch over my classes

for the watery arm that took him.

 

Light Against Light

 

I want again to believe

when we love

we remain

passing always from this light

into the next.

 

To remember

those x-rays of my lungs

I was shown as a child

whose gauzy shadows

were hidden wings.

I could feel the hot fist of the heart

but where was the soul?

 

And that his shoulder blades

when Billy stripped by the river

were more than bones

and we would someday lift our arms.

We had seen the gleaned skeletons

of birds drying on the salt flats.

On each wing, a thumb and four bird fingers.

 

How we lost faith

and knew that the minister's collar

was a halo that had slipped,

a noose that reddened his face

and made it difficult

for him to look down.

 

Billy believed

the 13 loops of the hangman's noose

made a hoop into the next life.

Me, I practiced that knot over and over.

 

But now there's no way back

and at night I ingest the room

and into the room, the building

and into that, the city and the lake,

until I am pulling in

all those edgeless places

where this galaxy becomes another.


From Coming Home From Home, © 2000, Bruce Hunter