She enters softly today, her firm step
and swaying hips gone as she slips in,
whispering to God for forgiveness.
I peer at her fingers pressed to lips,
where ghosts of her children flit,
and wonder if they ever did exist.
I cannot help myself. A wall stands
between us, though there are rifts,
through which flash uniforms and fists.
We, two middle-aged women, who meet
in a church where I tutor her in English,
while she seeks asylum in US.
Our wall, raised by our disparate tongues –
my sentences, she only half-gets;
and hers, I understand much less.
I do not want to accept
her tale, preferring it to be a ruse,
rather than a real abyss.
I hope the story of her abuse
is borrowed from someone she once met,
in order to gain her legal status.
Because if only a fraction is true – and this
much is, she was a prostitute,
her own lawyer admits –
then she has lived hard enough,
and if the rest of the story is hers,
if the rest does not belong to someone else,
then I question how she wakes,
or sleeps, or how she speaks
to God of her own penance.
For she has told INS that officers
stole one infant from her breast,
and cut another from her uterus.
With me, she begins to cry. Minutes pass.
And what would I have said to save
myself from the streets of such a place?
Suddenly her head rises. Dark eyes
stare dully through wet strands, as she asks
me who I am and where she is.