BY KIRSTEN HEMMY
Overcrowded, says a student, is a good thing.
Everyone wants creative writing, she says.
With no space to fit us all, we move into
an industrial classroom, big enough & only
non-beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on
our immaculate campus. It’s a kind of secret
room, around the way room no one uses
for its intended purpose. We see evidence, &
the students whisper: cigarette butts, absent
computer, footprints & dust. It’s been designed
strangely, an afterthought—men are obliged to
enter from the women’s side, & vice-versa,
compelling maze just to get in or out. Windows
too high to open the shades & the doors are
inexplicably lined with aluminum. It’s dark, dank,
bizarre & I love it. It’s perfect. This is our writer’s
spot, my voice echoes in the high-ceilinged space.
It’s also a Wi-Fi dead spot. I explain how
writers crave imperfection, grittiness. How
we dwell there. They nod their perfectly-covered
heads. They get this. This is their space. It’s me
who’s the student now: I’ve misunderstood
the dishdasha, white & crisp & perfectly reaching
men’s ankles; the abayat, unfaded black, bejeweled
& flowing, scarves arranged like well-coiffed hair,
these presentations of modesty & perfection.
Beneath them are thirty writers, poets & story-
tellers who ache, who reel, who urgently place
their words on the page. Who reside in the mess
of it all. One student writes about the weight
of date palms, the way fronds bend, fragile
as the curvature of ribs. Another sings
of the heartbreak of relentless sun, ancient
Bedouin dirge. I send them in search of rocks,
ask them to consider the sky, to hear adhan
as if with new ears. Our room is the empty quarter,
desert in midst of opulence. They speak as loudly
as they wish, their voices echoing against the walls,
songs of themselves, crescendos building into brilliance.