Akhil Katyal


first week in iowa city


First week in Iowa City

On the sixth day,

a white graduate student tells me

my English is strong.


I meant to say, that's just as well,

I'm an English teacher,


but didn't, because why the hell

should English still be the gold standard

to measure race relations,

and worth.


On the second day,

they took us grocery shopping.


There was a McDonalds outside

the store. And outside the McDonalds

were two flags - the bright yellow 'M'

flying a little higher than Stars & Stripes.


Even America wraps itself up in cliché sometimes.


On the fourth day,

I was watching a Youtube video

of a press conference,

where the Indian Home Minister,

in the seventh week of the curfew in Kashmir,

said that the use of pellet guns caused 'least damage'.


I am beginning to think words

change their meanings in Kashmir.


I am trying to square 'least damage'

with hundreds of children blinded, with

the paramilitary forces' own admission that

they used 1.3 million pellets in over four weeks.


'Least' is the last word

to change its meaning in Kashmir,

in the long line of words,

that includes 'Childhood', and also



On the third day,

I meet a poet who writes of

the missing children of her homeland,

those no longer on the swings,

those no longer on the beaches.


Those eclipsed like

meanings from words.


The map tells me that

from Iowa City to Palestine

is 6327 miles, and

that from Iowa City to Kashmir

is 7127 miles.


I realize how close

Kashmir is to Palestine.


On the fifth day,

we go to a house party

and I find out what sort of houses

University professors can afford to live in in Iowa.


I don't compare.


On the first day,

later, as the evening swept the sky,

we drove from Cedar Rapids airport to our hotel,

and the one thing that I gasped at

- and I did not think I'd gasp at anything in a small town -

was the size of the moon.


It seemed the highway held a moon

ten times bigger than I'd ever seen back home.


This was a beginning,

I told myself,


and if the moon can multiply its size,

what is not possible, then, here?