Veiled Student

Jan Ball

When I first see her in my classroom,
I recoil slightly as I did last week when
I saw the amputated-leg-man on the bus,
his trousers rolled up on one side as if
he were going fishing not protecting
his pants from a snowdrift, and now
I call the roll: Juan Medilla, Seung Kim,
Laetifa Al Kaabi and the veiled woman
responds in a loud, clear voice as the other,
unveiled students have, Here, from Saudi
Arabia. I like to swim.

The next day I give a vocabulary exercise
in which I ask the students to emote the word,
shock. Piphat contorts his mouth into an O
like blowing bubbles and widens his eyes.
Naschelli inhales then grimaces like she has
eaten too many chilis. What will Laetifa do?
I ponder. She raises her eyebrows like bridges
above the green niqab she is wearing today
and twists her neck to the side like the painting
of St. Sebastian with arrows piercing his white
body that I saw at the Prado last year.

In each class, Laetifa volunteers answers
through colorful pieces of cloth stretched
across her face outlining the tip of her nose
which I have become aware of. I accommodate
her wish to not have a male partner for peer-
evaluation of essays. She writes in her journal
how much she enjoys her English classes as
well as eating pizza in Chicago but I can’t
imagine how she can eat with the veil covering
her mouth. Last Tuesday, I walk into the ladies
room before class as she is exiting. She backs
up then asks, Would you like to see my face?
I say, yes.


220 of Jan Ball’s poems appear in journals such as: Atlanta Review, Calyx, Connecticut Review, Main Street Rag, Nimrod, and Phoebe. Jan’s two chapbooks: accompanying spouse (2011) and Chapter of Faults (2014) were published with Finishing Line Press.