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Sana’a University, Yemen
Can a can can a can? the students of linguistics quiz me, giggling as if they’ve heard the most delicious gossip. They are students of Dr. D. Thakur, or D.T., the Indian professor who has been teaching here since the university was built. With his thick glasses, Brylcreemed silver hair, and calm demeanor, he’s as guru as can be in a country of Muslims. Surrounded by his disciples in the inner sanctum of his flat, he claps his hands and says, Madame, sweets. His wife parts the curtain, setting before them a tray of petit-fours and tamarind juice.
Can a can can a can? they bubble. Late for my own lecture, I’m walking past the Faculty of Science, where the skeleton of a whale or huge fish, probably from the Red Sea, is displayed. It must be similar to whatever swallowed Yunus, the claustrophobic story familiar to all People of the Book. Behind me, the hedges of red geraniums are in bloom. Oh, to be the lucky gardener of the university grounds, day in and day out slaking the thirst of things that blossom and bear fruit! No wonder young women sit on the benches nearby, drawing Seven-Up from cool green bottles, through bright plastic straws, to their lips.
Can a can can a can? they keep asking, and I’m guessing it must be a grammatical miracle, a secret code they expect I know. What I do know is it’s a question I’ll never ask. Beyond their silly grins, I notice male students at the main gate surrendering their daggers to the soldier. They’ll get the daggers back after class. Last year during final exams, the soldier’s pet buzzard, loose from its tether, hopped into my classroom. My students slapped its beak with their test papers until it squawked and, like I do when confounded by a puzzle, flapped away.
From Homeland Not Far: New & Selected Poems (Press 53). Copyright 2017.