BEGINNER’S ENGLISH FOR REFUGEES
by Sebastian H. Paramo
I walk around the makeshift classroom
where the heat has us sweating for words.
The adults repeat phrases like a chorus,
Each word is said
as if it could change their lives.
They get out their notebooks & sharpened
pencils while the fan overhead twirls
a phrase or two that says, show me
the way. Multicolored hands capture
each letter in perfect script
like a child hunger.
They nibble at all the words.
Their eyes are on me—they don't stare,
they're intent at becoming American
like me. I string out a couple more words
& hammer phrases into their brains.
I want to give them that hammer,
holding a marker in my hand,
I want to test the refugees. I call on
a Nepalese woman to answer what is this?
But she doesn’t understand this—that word this.
Not yet. She turns to her neighbor from Iraq
saying No idea. Repeating her phrase. No Idea.
I turn myself around; writing the word again—they repeat.
Sebastian H. Paramo’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The North American Review, The McNeese Review, Canary, Lunch Ticket, The Oklahoma Review, and others. He is an editor for the online journal, The Boiler, and was recently awarded a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. He lives in Dallas.