The turbaned head nodded
to primordial language, rough music
striking blind chords against the west
like a match, solfège of sulfur
filling ears with hell fire. I put
my thumb in India ink to make the face
that haunted me in dreams,
used Liquid Paper to replicate
my Father's brush with history.
Sirens sounded in my school
as Mrs. Walters got us ready
for the tornado drill: bodies under desks,
heads down, as if all of us
were Muslims. I knelt completely still,
waiting for nothing.
“Amherst killed the Indians,” lectured the professor,
passing around a blanket infected with imaginary small pox,
clicking slides of splotchy skin. I got sick to my stomach,
itchy welts on my face and hands as if the sketches
of suffering, the very idea of disease, made me sick
instead of the deer killed by my Father. I got the chills
as someone put the blanket in my hands, a gesture
that my fevered brain interpreted as kindness until
word of warming myself with the blanket spread
like wildfire through rows of the auditorium. The professor
had to ask what the hell was so funny. He turned on the lights.
I must have looked like I was dying. I heard “pale…he’s so pale.”
They tell me I screamed that I killed the Indians, identifying
with all “palefaces” of history, trying to scratch off my own pale Persian skin.
The doctors in the ER mentioned an allergy plus food poisoning.
I screened the professor’s concerned calls out of shame
while sitting on the toilet, writing a paper on Amherst’s
motivation. I kept calling my Father,
knowing he’d made it home and chosen in turn
to screen my calls while suffering in his own silence.
In the courtyard of the community college
stands an abstract statue of Icarus,
its armless bronze torso slanting into the sky,
simultaneously encouraging and discouraging
the student body: “Try your very best,
but don’t go beyond the associates degree.”
This is where I teach, at least for now,
adding line upon line to my C.V.,
steps of the academic ladder.
I hope someday to climb out of this place.
As a specialist in modern American poetry,
I might very well die here. With nothing to lose,
I decide to make myself aware of the present,
to find, comme Baudelaire, a flower in the factory,
the machine of banality, grading endless remedial essays,
discouraging my classes from using racial epithets,
getting graded myself by student and faculty evaluations.
I have studied my surroundings in this box of a building,
looking for beauty to change my perspective.
We are all here in one way or another,
deprived of any real transcendence.
For me, the closest I came to it happened when passing
an empty classroom with an upturned desk revealed
about thirty pieces of different colored gum,
an artist’s palette in an age when art,
as Jean Baudrillard claims, is only a conspiracy
to privilege and commodify the aesthetic object
until overused and removed from its true essence.
How refreshing to see this already chewed gum
take on such unpretentious form in an environment
designed merely to function.