The immigrant translates

in her mind the words for custom
and care. She needs to tell the surly

landlord about the ill-fitting windows
that let in too much winter air, the hook
and eye fasteners that are loose, her fear

that roof rats have made their way
into the dark back hallway. It is
her custom to choose words with care,

but now she must find her way
more slowly. There are words in this
new tongue that continue to surprise her

as she walks to the train station
and back, that catch like little banners
on the wind, or sharper— before flying

away from what mouthed them. Some
are translucent as milk she pours
into the cracked blue ceramic dish

of the soft gray cat belonging to
the wheelchair-bound woman she
works for. Some are dark and reek

of blood or sour piss and peppers,
which her employer confirms are the same
peppers which go into pepper spray,

a small canister of which she presses
into her hand one afternoon saying You aim
this nozzle right in the face of anyone

who ever bothers you in the street. You run
like crazy, you shout Help and Fire but you
also make sure that there are witnesses.


In response to Via Negativa: Slight difference.

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