World Class: Poems Inspired by the ESL Classroom (Apprentice House, 2014)
In E.S.L. class
where new friends can’t converse, they
hold hands, beaming joy.
You will never think the same about immigrant workers and their children after you read these poems. And you will better appreciate the passion, frustration, pain and joy of those who teach English as a second language. A remarkable achievement in a few words. - Newt Gingrich, 58th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
There are 325 languages spoken in the United States and over a million immigrants enrolled in federally funded English classes. Most are beginners. In this collection of poems, an ESL teacher and former expat illustrates her students’ struggles and triumphs by addressing their linguistic challenges and culture shock alongside broader social issues such as poverty, spousal abuse, religious traditions, illegal immigration, education, the role of women in other cultures, and the mental scars of war. Their stories are heart-breaking, uplifting, and tinged with unexpected humor that shines a new light on their place in America.
PazMaya Under Pressure
Lesson Six, Leisure,
seems like a cruel joke to me.
For most of my students, a day
at the beach is as good as it gets.
We practice frequency adverbs
in hypothetical skits:
How often do you eat out?
PazMaya, sighing, says,
“Never. I don’t have time.”
She works double shifts at McDonald’s;
a widow supporting a clan:
her mother who’s dying of cancer,
her daughter-in-law who stays home
to nurse her and tend to five kids –
Their father was shot to death.
This woman’s ripe for a breakdown,
playing dodge ball with her health.
I wish I could pamper her.
How good a massage would feel
or a shopping spree for herself.
But I can’t adopt every problem,
and she can’t make time to eat out.
Besides, she might be insulted –
this dynamo who comes to class
with Valentine truffles for me,
brimming with questions that prove
she will never ever give up.
(Kansas City Voices, Fall 2013)