Describe the city you live in
My student says he has no hometown.
He’s lived in sixteen houses and cities in his nineteen
years of being alive. San Diego, Bozeman, Mānoa.
I ask why. He says Army Brat and smiles,
the word brat thrust out like a searing brand
of pride. He submits a story where the protagonist
is being tortured by a deflector from the CIA.
At workshop, his classmate says she feels alien to the language
in the story, all military jargon that I forget
myself. She says she feels lost. Lost as in displaced. As in given
the conditions I have no home in this text. No point
of access. My cousin is the first in the family
to receive citizenship because of his recruitment to the Air Force.
It’s been eighteen long years, tenement to picket
fence: Newark, Providence, Virginia Beach, now somewhere
in the bowels of Arkansas. This June, his sister marries into
an American family. I’ve forgotten my score
on that English aptitude exam, the penultimate step to a temporary Visa,
but not the busted air conditioning, the whitewashed room,
its Styrofoam ceiling pockmarked with water.
Headsets clipped to our temples, we are adjusting
the volume on the microphone, says the automated voice. Describe
the city you live in. Describe the city you live
in, mouths the room over and over again,
mishearing the instruction as mimicry. Describe the city
you live in? We’re from all over
this country of erasure: Pasig, Lucena, Tuguegarao. When asked
about his plans after college, my student says he would like to follow
in his father’s footsteps, travel the world, keep it
safe, see all God’s small people smiling
in gratitude: Damascus, Siem Reap, Marawi.
And I envy him because he still has a life, maybe
thirty, forty more possible hometowns, ample space
to change his mind, the broadest margins where he could
rewrite a story where this time evil is somehow still
defeated, the uniformed hero leaves
just enough space for any reader to make herself a home.
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