THE WARTIME ISSUE
TO THE CAPTORS OF TOM FOX ON DECEMBER 13, 2005
It’s been more than two weeks now, and you are still young, wearing dark dress pants and a white cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Or stone-washed jeans and a Fanta T-shirt, or a caftan and sandals, or fatigues and an AK-47.
You are dark-haired and fair-haired and bald. You have children and/or are a child yourself.
Your dead uncle was conscripted into Hussein’s army, or your mother died in a hospital without electricity, or you came from somewhere else entirely. Do you smoke cigarettes, leaning against the doorway, with your back to Tom; are you a fervent and religious anti-smoker? Are you reading a book while you wait as we wait? What is that book, what’s it about?
You are sick of our ideas, our endeavors, our language. You don’t want to talk to me. Do you.
The bright sunlight is pouring down on you. It’s windy today, but not too cold.
You’re at home now and your wife just offered you tea and she somehow managed to get just the kind you like, with honey and a little bit of lemon.
Your daughter is recovering from an eight-day fever and wants to take the kite out. You found a good pair of socks for her, and you are kneeling just now, and rolling them onto her calves.
Back where you are holding Tom, you are noticing the shape of the tree across the street; how it has grown with such balance and grace, the limbs reaching out almost symmetrically in every direction, the trunk healthy and the roots visible and then not visible.
My ignorance is infinite, but I know this: in America, things are not always as they sound. The sound of fire, for example, can be emulated by the crumbling of this plastic bag, which yesterday held groceries so easily bought.
And just now Tom Fox said something or made some understandable human gesture, and all of you laughed together. Can it be?
And some things are never seen at all, as I will never see you, whose lives are more interesting than I can imagine; whose faces have been kissed and hair stroked.
I light this candle for you, please, have a cup of tea.
My ignorance is limitless, but this much I can tell you: here in America, it is winter, and cold. The heat from my radiator is certainly felt, but can only be seen by the shadow it casts on my tabletop.
Johnna Schmidt is the Director of the Jiménez-Porter Writers' House, at the University of Maryland, College Park. She lives with her family in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Published in Volume 7, Number 2, Spring 2006.