Sharon Cumberland



When he arrived in September he could say “hello”
and smile with eyes one might have seen
in a caravanserai a thousand years ago.
He would leave his shoes outside his bedroom
door, wear perfume in his hair, excuse himself
from the table to pray on a carpet on the floor,
guided by his compass and a yellow schedule.
I taught him how to grill a cheese sandwich,
boil pasta, fry an egg, so he could feed himself
when I was at work. His mothers and sisters
had fed him in Jiddah, and washed his clothes,
so I showed him how to do laundry, empty the trash,
sew on a button. His buddies came over
to practice English, smoke sheeshas—apple
tobacco flavoring the air. Their mothers
sent them spices and recipes for kapsah;
I showed them how to thaw the chicken,
steam the rice. He called me his American mother,
because there is no word in Arabic for a single woman
who owns a home, or drives a car to teach
at a university. His four mothers sent him sugar dates,
almonds and green coffee. They sent me a pound
of saffron. At Christmas I gave him a snow globe
of Santa Claus. He asked to come to church with me,
but lost his courage. He went home at Easter,
returned with a pink hajalib for me, his third mother
proud to have found a dress large enough
to fit such a big American woman.


“To the Saudi Student Who Left his Prayer Schedule Behind” is forthcoming in Strange with Age (Black Heron Press, 2014).


Sharon Cumberland has been writing poetry since 1983, and has published in a wide variety of magazines and journals, including Ploughshares,The Iowa Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Kalliope and Verse. Her first full-length collection is Peculiar Honors (Black Heron Press, 2011). Her second collection, Strange with Age, is forthcoming from Black Heron in 2014. After a career in New York as an arts manager, working for the Lincoln Center Theater Company and the Metropolitan Opera, she earned a Ph.D. in English from the City University of New York. She is now an Assistant Professor of American Literature and Poetry at Seattle University.

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