Describe the city you live in

Kabel Mishka Ligot

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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