I Cry for his Loss

i cry for the card, for his loss,
 for his Iraqi-Syrian past,
 for all the burning hours of summer school
 where he committed himself
 to finishing high school in three years.
 
 i cry for his words, for his loss,
 his inescapable self that has hidden
 a kind face in a chaotic classroom,
 his sly smile catching my every
 snuck-in witty remark
 (even when no one else could).
 
 i cry for the system, for his loss,
 shuffled by our government’s wars
 between homelands that stole his home,
 for his pride in Iraqi architecture
 that he may never see again.
 
 i cry for his future, for his loss,
 for how unequivocally kind his soul remains
 after all he has witnessed in twenty-one years,
 for his brothers who wait under his watchful shadow,
 for our country to give him a chance.
 
 i cry for his words, for my loss,
 to not have his presence in my classroom,
 to have the nicest thing anyone’s
 ever written to me
 disappear with a graduation ceremony.
 
 i cry for the world, for their loss,
 for robbing refugees of their rights,
 for keeping the beauty that is him,
 that is within all of them,
 from sharing their strength
 with all of us, inshallah,
 for a brighter tomorrow.
 

Snow March

because we need this:
 desertification looms
 just beyond the bend
 
 (Trump looms there as well,
 where the ninety-degree March
 made some record highs)
 
 and so? a snow march
 to keep precipitation
 where it belongs: Earth
 

The Last Plane

Red hair, green eyes, tall and sure of himself, he peeks into my room, searching for a familiar face after lunch. I have seen this look before, as my students often seek their native-language counterparts.
 
 “Who are you looking for?” I ask, the after-lunch crowds raucously meandering around our conversation.
 
 “I am looking for you. I am a new student.” His accent is smooth and meticulous, genteel and articulate.
 
 “Oh, OK. What’s your name?”
 
 “Arvin.”
 
 “Where are you from?”
 
 “Iran.”
 
 “Iran? … And… how did you get here??” But I have to look away because the tears are already in my eyes.
 
 “I boarded the plane on Friday morning. I was in the last group of Iranians to come.”
 
 I want to continue the conversation, but I can’t. I can’t because the tears will fall. I can’t because I have to teach for the next ninety minutes. I can’t because every waking moment of my life since this election, since this inauguration, have become a cycle of servitude. Of serving this need or the next, of wishing for this and receiving that, of hoping for the best and seeing the worst.
 
 Instead I tell him where to sit and hand him a hard copy of I Am Malala. We will listen to the lilting Pakistani accent from Audible today as we continue to highlight human rights violations from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (we will highlight thirteen incidents in three chapters; we will connect media suppression and fascism and women’s rights to an education too closely to our lives; we will hear Fazlullah’s rants with an American accent).
 
 My weekly volunteer returns from the library after a time with a group of students. She meets with my Iranian student to explain to him his role in the group as they create posters connecting Malala’s experiences to the UDHR. He fits in well and tells the group he cannot draw very efficiently, so can he please have the role of interpreting the quotation from the chapter and connecting it to the UDHR document?
 
 He has been here for five days. He got in on the LAST PLANE.
 
 After class, my retired-white-woman volunteer asks, “If he just got here from Iran, how come he can speak English?”
 
 And that is when I decide.
 
 I have to start here. Right in this moment. With this woman who drives one mile from her upscale mansion in Cherry Creek North to “make a difference.”
 
 “Pretty much all of the students who come here learned English before they came. Usually only the refugees have interrupted schooling. But most countries start teaching English when the kids are in kindergarten.”
 
 I swear her jaw drops ten inches. She wants to say something, but she doesn’t have the words to describe her ignorance.
 
 “Oh…”
 
 And now you know, I want to say. But I don’t. I don’t cry when I want to, because I have to be strong for them. I don’t tell her that Trump’s America is not my America, not Arvin’s America. I don’t tell her that the combination of students in this room represents the values of our country better than most Americans I know. That a red-headed Iranian entering my classroom five days past an executive order banning Muslims is as beautiful to me as Ziauddin’s tears in the New York Times documentary as he sees Swat for the first time in three months (which we watch at the end of class).
 
 Instead, I say, “Thank you for your help. I’ll see you next Wednesday.”
 
 And that is all I can do to resist.
 
 All for today.

Locationally Challenged

Where is my place in this America? It is the question asked by millions, and so frequently no answer is ever offered. Our collective experiences often lead us to both hate and love this country. It’s a balance, a scale, ready to tip as easily towards hate as towards love.

I am a white woman. It is a blessing and a curse. It comes with white privilege and preferential treatment. It comes with the burden of white privilege and preferential treatment. Because yes, these are burdens. I participate in the historical women’s march and am demonized for the privilege the protesters are allowed by law enforcement since the organizers and protesters are primarily white. I am reminded that “white women voted for Trump” even though I am not one of those white women.

I am trapped between feeling like I want to do everything to stop the hatred that has taken over the world and feeling like no matter what I do, nothing will change. Trump will continue to sign executive order after executive order (ten so far in three business days) stripping every last one of us from our human rights. I have signed at least 100 petitions since election day. I have posted on social media. I have spoken to friends and family about my beliefs. I have supported my students as best as I can while “remaining neutral” (a requirement of the school district). I have called the Department of Justice, my senators, my congress men and women (only to be blocked, to receive a busy signal, or be directed to a full voicemail box).

Where is my place in this America? As a mother of three daughters, a wife of a white man, a teacher of refugee and immigrant students, a Democrat, an atheist, an idealist?

Because white women have betrayed me. Defriended me. Voted for Trump (58% of them??).

Because mothers don’t seem to care that we have a president who brags about grabbing women by their pussies.

Because white men (nothing like my husband)–63%–voted for a man who publicly mocked a disabled reporter.

Because Democrats voted for third party candidates instead of Clinton.

Because I spend my day surrounded by non-whites from every culture and religious belief you can imagine, and I don’t belong with any of them, other than as a figurehead to the white world that is Our America.

Where is my place in this America? I can’t seem to find it. I search in my students’ eyes, my daughters’ artwork, my husband’s anti-government views… And no matter where I look, I feel homeless. Hopeless.

I am searching for what we have lost and will continue to lose. Seeking the solace of activists and friends. Pouring myself into research and writing. Studying law and politics and fact-checking every last piece of media. Taking the time to understand how horribly impactful the violation of human rights can be, how that violation trickles from person to person until the entire society buckles under itself.

And all I can ask, all I keep asking as I am surrounded by doubt and alternative facts and fact-checkers and protests and postcards and last-ditch efforts, is where is my place in this America?

Where is yours?

Why We March

We march because we have daughters. Because no one has the right to grab them by their pussies. Because “women’s rights are human rights” (God bless you, HRC). Because the world needs a wakeup call.

We march because we have sons. Sons who will grow into men who can learn how to respect women.

We march because we can’t be bullied. We can’t have anyone–male, female, binary–telling us what to believe. What to do with our bodies. What level of education we deserve. What pay rate we should succumb to.

We march because of our mothers who fought their way into the workforce. Because of our grandmothers who balanced households and work during WWII. Because of our great-grandmothers who were forced into marriages with strange men. Because of every woman who was ever mistreated or controlled by a man.

We march because politics matter. Political policies affect our lives, from whether we have birth control choices to being able to play sports in school to having equal opportunities in higher education.

We march because we are women and men, Muslim and Christian and Hindu and Jewish and Buddhist and atheist, LGBTQ and straight, married and unmarried, parents and grandparents, employees and employers, activists and pacifists.

We march because we are human. Because the United Nations created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we see it as a binding contract with our government. A binding contract with our world.

We march because we are free.

We march to protect that freedom.

Renewal

how it haunts her
aching and bright
a flash in the night

how it haunts her
taunting and cruel
calling her fool

how it teases
sneaky and mean
defiling the clean

how it teases
quick and abrupt
her heart now corrupt

how it breaks her
shatters and bits
degrading her wits

how it breaks her
blades and fires
lost with desires

how it heals her
sorrows and loss
rock-bottom moss

how it heals her
beginnings and ends
renewal ascends.

Black Bicycle Tires

At sixteen
(almost seventeen)
I wrote in my journal:
“Busiest street in the city
a solid two days in a row
you crossed it in between
rushes of cars, slow uphill
in gray breath-spilling morning,
heated gasps down the slope in the afternoon.

‘God is sending me miracles!’
you scream out, because
nothing moves as quickly
as black bicycle tires
when it’s almost summer.”

At thirty-one
(almost thirty two),
I write in my journal:
“Silver or magenta,
mountain or road,
black bicycle tires
erase the pain
before and behind me,
a majestic blur of
rubber on pavement,
a remedy for adolescence,
adulthood,
life.