Take the case of the dogwood tree, Cornus florida, belonging to the Phylum Spermatophyta—if you’re wondering. It’s a Native American plant that has been burdened with a heavy crime for its 40-foot frame. Granted it is strong enough to make golf clubs and wooden mallets, but its main crime does seem biologically questionable.
The cities also house two literary shrines. In Lahore, Urdu Short Story writer, Saadat Hasan Manto is buried. And in Delhi is the mazar of the father of Urdu poetry, Mirza Assad Ullah Khan Ghālib. They lived in different times but they are connected by the words they wrote.
Each letter has its place related to lines that have already been drawn. At times, a letter grandstands at the opening of a sentence, and at others a it announces the end. Sometimes it must connect with the letters on each side, smoothly, mixing in becoming one of the group. And then there are those that connect awkwardly and prefer their own space, distant from others.
I connected with the work of Aliza Nisenbaum. Like me, she teaches English to immigrants. She taught English at the Immigrant Movement International, a community space in Queens started by the Cuban-born artist and activist Tania Bruguerahe.
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, is one of the many texts I chose for my ESL classes. With a poetic mix of Spanish and English, the story of Esperanza is the story of immigrants and home.
Later after my dad passed away, I often sat here with my mom—talking about everything but really nothing much or just sat quietly, enjoying the peaceful view overlooking my hometown.
Finding time to write and create is a luxury for some, a necessity for others. The question remains, how do we recognize those who don’t have time to create and document? Has the world changed since Tillie Olsen wrote about the suppression of those disadvantaged by gender, class, or race?
It’s a creativity enhancer, an aphrodisiac for art, Selma tells me about the mystic music that inspires her most recent painting of calla lilies dancing like whirling dervish.
But those thoughts can wait. I have other more important decisions to consider. So many ice cream flavors. Which one do I not choose? And at tea time, Battenberg cake. For Sunday lunch shepherd’s pie. Fish and chips served in newspapers with vinegar drizzled all over.
Poetry is all about listening to yourself and listening to those “voices” that speak to you. The way I write poetry is by listening to these voices that begin like hunches and even melodies, and for those who want to write poetry, my best advice is to grab a piece of paper and pencil and just do it.
The anthem is in Farsi, not Urdu, the national language. We understand a few verses, not all of them, but we know to bow our heads at the end, showing respect to Khuda, Allah, God… Sayyai, Khudae zul jalal. Protection in the shadow of the Almighty.
Fernando, who grew up in Argentina, speaks up: I hate the British, he says. I’m surprised by this otherwise mild-mannered student. When I was young, I thought I would kill any British man I met. The Falkland war made me think that way…the society around me made me think that way.
Others in the class join in. Post-revolution China comes up, followed by Movimiento Estudiantil, the1968 student revolution in Mexico to oust the longstanding PRI regime.
For years my label for myself has been musafir, مسافر/यात्री which is the word for traveler in Hindi/Urdu. I grew up in India and since my father was a doctor in the Indian Army, I found myself in a new city and school every two to three years. It was a transitory existence, which I assumed – as any egocentric child – was how the world lived. Seven schools, a couple of universities and many, many homes in many cities later I found myself in a city and home in California, where I have now lived the longest. And the musafir is still here.
An image snapped into focus. A setting, an emotion I could relate to: a recent walk around the city lakes in the rain, pushing the children in their barnevogn, swans and cormorants gliding along beside us, me drowning in homesickness.
To return to the story of Mabel, she brings over ten books to Patras’ room, and, for weeks, they both argue about their content and style. These intellectual discussions build an underlying tension that is released the day Bokhari falls ill.
“But he couldn’t remember the mimosa flowering in March, neither this year when the lockdown was starting, nor last year when he was convalescing and homebound. He remembered, instead, filming the mimosa tree in a windstorm, three years ago, when the world seemed safer.”
The Beekeeper of Aleppo , a painful and powerful story of survival, inspired this work, says Selma when we discuss how we’ve kept ourselves creative during COVID shelter-in-place.
“Amma, he said through clenched teeth. “I’m sure you’ve discovered through your WhatsApp forwards that there’s talk of a lockdown. How can we possibly have a wedding at a time like this?”
“What an odd sight we make, I thought. Three nuns, three Thai women, and two farang (foreigners) coiling like a long snake down a side street.”
I wonder how much they miss their old routines. Do they miss playdates? Do they feel the same comfort when they listen to the teacher’s voice which is a notch louder in an online class? What do they make of the teacher’s writing on the whiteboard in a synchronous class?