October 12, 2014

Devin Kelly

FEAR OF

We are discussing the roots of things. How phobia
means fear of, and we make them up. Bookaphobia.
Classroomaphobia. Girlaphobia. I say there will be
a quiz. They laugh. It is evening in a small room
in Queens where the desks are miniatures
of the things they should be and the children
sitting in them too close to me and my coffee
so soon done. Then I ask them if they are afraid.
Then I ask them of what. The word penis. Spiders.
The people who hate me for my name. How a moment
turning stills to a moment stilled. How silence,
even in silence, breathes. Their pages of homework
loiter upon their desks. Fifteen words they had
never seen before, and fifteen meanings, written out
beside. Benevolent. Ailurophile. I spoke, upon the hearing,
of opposites, to think of words as people, rooted,
experimenting with different prefixes. To think of words
as lovers, hungry for what it might be they want.
What is her name? It lingers a moment before
it hassles its way out of my mouth. The shape it takes,
unfamiliar, awkward. A word I have never spoken before.
And her skin brown. How she taught me the way
to count to ten in Arabic. The people who hate me
for my name. The people who hate me. The people.
Across an ocean, a man kneeling does not see the hand
that holds the gun that fires the bullet that splits
his head in two. Across an ocean, someone laughs
at a fence of severed heads. I do not know
what to teach anymore. Graphophobia. Philophobia.
Fear of writing, fear of love. And all these children
who do not have a name for their sorrow. At night,
in bed, I turn her name for the hundredth time
and find its beauty. The soft grace of wanting
to be held. A child, scared, moving in dark
from room to room to find the mother who named her,
the father, too, and their reasons why.

Poets Respond
October 12, 2014

[download audio]

__________

Devin Kelly: “I teach in New York City, and most of my students come from Arab families and are practicing Muslims. This poem responds to a moment I experienced while teaching, when a child expressed her fear of Islamophobia with the simple yet sorrowfully poignant statement. Obviously, the issue of ISIS and fundamentalists is not just pigeonholed as a weekly news topic—it has been prevalent throughout the past months. But this past week, with the ramping up of Islamic criticism by pundits such as Bill Maher, I thought it extremely pertinent to craft this poetic response and meditation, through the lens of a teacher, a person, and someone trying to grapple with all these things at once. ” (website)

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