Roommates, 1978

I had two college roommates.

This blog entry is about one of those roommates — someone who entered my life for one year during my junior year of college. Karen, my friend and first college roommate, had taken a break from college to make some decisions about where she wanted her life to go. That meant that I had no idea who I would be rooming with when I returned to college in the fall of 1977.

When I walked into my old dorm room, my new roommate’s boxes were already there. The mailing labels said “Tehran, Iran.” And so began my year of learning about another culture, another religion, another lifestyle, another human being.

Last night I read some poems with four other poets at the International House in Providence. We were asked to choose poems with a global perspective. I remembered my year with Afi — Afarineh B., a computer engineering student from Tehran, Iran. We had a good relationship as roommates go, but my boyfriend and her intense studies kept us respectful of each other and a bit distant.

In all these years, I have never attempted to connect with her again — but she did make a powerful impression on me. Maybe it’s time I did.

Roommates, 1978

for Afarineh

Long ago,
we slept in a bunk bed built by an Iowa farmer
with paintings by your Iranian father on our dorm wall.
You read late into the night and left early for class –
your days filled with engineering and calculus
and fears for your family’s lives,
your country’s collapse,
the Shah of Iran, Khomeini.

Every evening,
you covered your long chestnut hair
with a printed shawl and unrolled your prayer rug.
You recited verses from your Qur’an – lifting
your small hands, facing west on the cold tile –
a world away from a childhood
teetering on extinction.

And every day,
you shouldered the weight of fear, of hate –
for your faith, your culture,
your sex, your intelligence.
You walked alone, the only female in class,
past fists that thumped Bibles.
You ate lunch in empty lecture halls.

Still, you laughed.
Still, you found joy in music, in stories,
in this strange country, in a box of sweets
your mother sent to celebrate the end of Ramadan,
which you shared with the girls on our floor,
just as they swapped Oreos and lip gloss.

At the bottom of a moldy college trunk,
I find your unexpected gift from that year –
a small silver box rimmed with etchings,
the lid adorned with a Persian painting.

I have no idea where you sleep,
if you ever saw your family again
or if you still pray.
But when I open this shiny box,
your laughter spills out.

I awake again to see a pool of light
from your reading lamp splash
over the bunk below me,
and listen as you
turn the page.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Room


Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

This is a photo of my parents’ living room in their home in Marcus, Iowa. The carpet was 1980s orange. The curtains (according to the stories I heard) were sewn by my great-aunt, my grandmother’s sister. My great-grandparents lived in this house many years before my father and mother bought it and retired here.

On this day we moved all the furniture on the front and side lawns for my dad’s house sale. It was a beautiful September day in 2010, and the day after that we cleaned the last things out of the house and closed the door forever. My father died in January 2013, and I have not returned to Marcus since. I hope to do that this summer sometime.

When I took this photo, I remember how the sun poured into the room, and how it was so quiet inside. I remember the muffled sound of the auctioneer as he sold away the things of my parents’ life together.

What was the last book you read?

stack of books

Looking for something to read? Got a good book that you think I should read? What are you reading this winter? Something light? Or something with bit of weight to it? I just started reading Behind the beautiful forevers by Katherine Boo, which is about a poverty-stricken settlement in India. I just finished reading Life of Pi for the second time — a book I love. Click on the “What I’m Reading” tab above and scroll through the books and comments you’ll find there. Then let me know what you think.

Belated … 2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,500 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.