He enters the windowless room carrying, under his arm—my heart,
the tracings of its beats, all my other parts and functions
each with their column of numbers, the ones that I need just so
to keep working overseas. He spells his name for me, H-T-W-T,
then pronounces it, slowly. Like a bird in a tree, he says,
in your English you say it like tweet. That is how to say my name.
He traces my heartbeats with a fingertip, reassuring.
Heart is healthy, he tells me, and I say thanks. He tries to
say my name, but can’t get his tongue around Grant.
He says he’s from Burma when I ask about his name,
that strange flock of consonants, and where it’s from.
Burma, not Myanmar. We both know what happened there,
and why he must have left to come to this Atlanta suburb,
Like the Bosnian nurse who takes my blood pressure and pulse,
the African woman whispering French into her phone or
the little Korean man flipping through Latina Parenting,
all of us putting in time getting papers in order, getting those stamps
to go work in the unpronounceable places where your own name
garbles into some cluster of squawks out of the mouth of some animal,
almost impossible for the confused locals to sound out.
Well now Burma, I say. Now there’s one place I’ve never been.
I hope to go someday. The road to Mandalay. He smiles,
squeezing my hand. If I ever get there in this life.
It might still be the country he left. But never the one that never left him.
The one on the old map of his heart, the memory he still calls the old name.
That never lived and always will. The same one I take back overseas with me.
That the African woman recalls in her lilted French. That the Bosnian
nurse dreams his way back to at night. That even the one woman
behind the desk who was born here and never moved away thinks of
when the quiet takes her right. The rooms of the old house they don’t live in
any more. Old wallpaper and creaking floors. Refugees. From so many wars.
About the AuthorJoanna Grant is a Collegiate Associate Professor with the University of Maryland, teaching in a program offering college classes to American servicemembers on military installations overseas. These experiences of war and travel and displacement inform her work. To date, she has worked in Japan, Kuwait (twice), Afghanistan (twice), Djibouti, South Korea, and Qatar. Her critical study of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth century British and American travel narratives about the Middle East, Modernism's Middle East, appeared from Palgrave Macmillan in 2008. Her poems have appeared widely, in journals such as Prairie Schooner, Guernica, The Southern Humanities Review, and numerous other journals.