A Student in Class

Hitoe Engelbrekt

Walking on an immaculate campus with patches of lawn

unnaturally green,

(do not enter),

all I see is backpacks wearing their students.

Taking fast, steady steps towards their destination,

the backpacks are filled with textbooks

written by people who divide east from west.

My backpack

sags with an English-Japanese dictionary

thick with words.


In the building

where everyone crams knowledge for higher income,

posters scream



Everyone is welcome!

A professor walks my way.

I tell myself don’t bow.

I search for an honorific phrase for good morning.


In the classroom,

I take the black, plastic chair.

Other students fill the empty space around me.

A girl looks into my eyes says hello and her name.

I say my name and she asks

if I have a nickname

easier for her to pronounce.


A Chinese student stands up, yells at me,

refuses to work with me in group.

Japanese soldiers killed his people.

I will never be forgiven,

his pain passed down by his family.


A Filipino student points to the word ianjo,

WWII military brothel,

on her presentation slide.

Then she points at me. Say it!

Japanese soldiers raped and killed young girls.

I will never be forgiven,

her pain passed down by her people,

somehow caused by me,


college education won’t help me

to differentiate “r” and “l,” “b” and “v.”

My tuition won’t alter my accent,

color of my skin,

shape of my eyes.

My old cultural beliefs

itch me like a tight wool sweater,

one size too small.


A student tells me

“if you don’t like this country, go back where you came from!”

as if I could pack my children in one suitcase.


In a room filled with students, I am alone

taking notes. I copy

statistical formula with Greek letters. I scribble

philosophical theories, pondered by white men

who worry nothing about their next meal. I scrawl

historical events painted by tears and blood.


Twenty nine credits more.


Words I jot turn to fuel to fight.

Notebooks pile up in my armory.

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