I’m a bit creaky in the bones but continue to work in the building trades: carpenter, plumber, electrician. Nights, I write. Working with the hands feeds the head. joecottonwood.com
English as a Second Language
Twenty adults, all Vietnamese,
sit respectfully in a classroom,
San Jose City College, eager to learn
but silent. The point is to talk (in English)
so the instructor asks, “How did you
get here?” Hesitantly, first one:
she walked a hundred kilometers
carrying two children, paid a boatman,
took many people, the boat sank,
a child drowned. Next one: attacked
by pirates, daughter stolen, never seen
again. Then an outpouring: typhus.
An ambush. Cheated. An angel
in the form of a helicopter.
Courage, heartbreak, luck.
And plenty of talk.
Next class. “What is the most beautiful
sight you’ve ever beheld?” They
half the planet. What splendors
have passed their eyes?
A hesitation, then the first:
“Most beautiful thing I ever see
is San Jose Airport.” Immediately
a chorus, they all agree.
First glimpse, descending
from broken clouds.
Tarmac. Landing lights.
San Jose Airport.
First published in Allegro December 2016
© 2017 Joe Cottonwood
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