On Boundaries

Arames, Tiago Celastino

Language teachers live and work on boundaries. Boundaries of self, boundaries between people, and boundaries among peoples. It is such boundaries that the poems this issue survey.

We start with Jessica Goodfellow’s forensic dissection of one of the smallest and most common words in the English language, cutting to the heart of what it really means to be ‘I’. In ‘Defining I’, Goodfellow cleverly employs words to show how tested words are when charged with the task of delineating personal boundaries.

Next, Alton Melvar M Dapanas traps his narrator in the rarefied environment of a Skype lesson cubicle in order to focus the lens on interpersonal boundaries between teacher and student. In doing so ‘The Five Senses’ goes beyond exposing the limitations of communications technology and conveying the human desire to transcend these to touch on the issue of professional boundaries.

We close with the bittersweet irony of Paul Rossiter’s ‘Question of Palestine’. Here, through personal anecdote Rossiter gives immediacy to an historic declaration that one hundred years on continues to divide opinion and raise intractable political boundaries between peoples.


Defining I

I teach my student to capitalize the personal pronoun I
and immediately she also begins capitalizing My. No,
I tell her, your I-ness doesn’t rub off on anything
you touch, or own, or love, or even with which
you I-dentify. She seems confused, so I say, All you take
with you when you go is your I. She doesn’t even blink, so
Look, I say, gravity’s no tragedy like time. No reaction.
I try again: I is just an overcoat of curfew and skin.
From her withering look I suspect she’s thinking, Then
shouldn’t everything be capitalized except for I? But
she doesn’t wordify that argument and neither do I.


The Five Senses*

Begin with the silence of cubicles:

Our lips twitched colonial accents
as fingers latch to foreign lexemes.
Our Skype emoticons remain muted.
Within these bland sundering walls
are stares—timid but voyeured.
Added to this litany of unsaid words
is your scent like the first rain of June.

Let me ask you now:
How do you remain unknown
to the language of my touch?


The Question of Palestine

on the way to Kuwait City
we drive through Hawalli, a Palestinian area

battered low-rise buildings
broken windows
rubbled streets, pot-holed tarmac

so this is where my students live…

in composition classes
in the air-conditioned training centre
the Palestinian students have just one topic
although many ways to express it:

olive trees, orange groves, the empty well,
the big iron key,
the deeds to the house
in a box under a bed in a camp in Lebanon

Khalil apologised for an absence from class
his first son was being born

congratulations, warmest congratulations!
what are you going to call him?

Balfour, he said, looking me straight in the eye


For ‘shadow:dwelling:’ by Jessica Goodfellow, visit the 2014 Vol. 2 poetry page On the Spoken Word

For an analysis of Goodfellow’s poetry, see Kathryn M. Tanaka’s essay ‘Thoughts on Poetry in the EFL Classroom’ in The Font 2016 Vol. 1.

Whiteout by Jessica Goodfellow will be published by Alaska University Press in summer 2017. Details available here.

* ‘The Five Senses’ by Alton Melvar M Dapanas was first published in Eastlit as ‘English for the Non-native: The Five Senses’.