Beside The Sleeping Maiden: Poets Of Marin – Looking For Home

poetsofmarin.jpgThey enter my makeshift classroom
with office divider walls and
a lopsided table, not enough
fold-up chairs. They sit on
the floor and use old
National Geographics, my only
teaching supplies,
as miniature table tops.

They are Mexicans, Guatemalans,
anyone I’ve managed to pull away
from the free clothing room,
saying “Come learn English.
Puede aprender inglés. Today.”
They are mainly men in their twenties,
men my age who have
left their families
to search for jobs and the good life
some muchacho passing through
their town had told them about.

They know little more than
“What’s up?” and “My name is Daniel.”
The first day they laugh
at their own mispronunciations
and my being a woman, muttering
jokes in Spanish, not understanding
the meaning behind my language.
They hear only guttural sounds and
“h”s that, in their country,
would have remained silent.

Each day they come, at first just
a group of noses peeking over the wall
to see if this classroom still exists.
They always seem surprised that I
am still here, have not been deported
like their friends. Each day
there are more questions.
What is the difference
between “know” and “no?”
How do you spell “learn?” and
Teacher, what does your name mean
in Spanish?

They cultivate calm English words
in their mouths, still longing for
the rolling “r”s and salsa “ch”
of Spanish, still waiting for the day
they’ll know how to ask a stranger
directions on the street
rather than wandering the dry
sun crackled sidewalks of San Rafael,
hoping to come across a landmark,
something familiar that will
tell them they’re home.

Buy the book.