After a few homework sessions I see
       his most important questions
come when the textbooks are closed,
       for he is the English-speaking prism
through which the rest of his family
       experiences this newness, this America.
So he looks to me for social answers,
       like, did Bill Gates really drop out of Harvard?
He wants to know what Hari Krishnas do.
       And on this particular Tuesday afternoon
he asks, as though a friend is in trouble,
       “Mr. Rupert, is it true Lil’ Wayne’s in jail?”
I respond with the full truth which, of course,
       brings his next question, “What’s Rikers?”  
And it’s somewhere during my description
       of that bleak prison out in the East River
surrounded by New York City yet apart from it,
       this is when the Head-Tutor-Woman’s at our back,
wanting to know what we’re discussing
       at such length with the textbook closed.
And even though I try to give Mohammad
       the universal let’s-keep-a-secret look,
the Ix-nay on Ill–ayne-way, the boy replies
       with the most charming guileless lilt,
“Lil’ Wayne’s on Rikers. Mr. Rupert told me,”
       yet this pleases me because it shows
he understood that Rikers is an island.
       But the Head Tutor Woman is not pleased.
She’s giving me the look that conveys we’ll soon
       be having a discussion about this,
the look that suggests she’ll soon be
       reviewing my background-check file.
So okay, okay, we open his Psychology book
       that dulls the boy’s eyes like silver polish
left on too long, and as we turn its pages
       he sticks his arm out, wham, a human bookmark
on this picture he showed his mother last night.
       It’s that famous photograph of Konrad Lorenz,
the German behaviorist, swimming in a lake,
       a line of six ducklings right behind him –
Imprinting – these newly hatched ducks
       think the swimming man is their mother,
the case for nurture in Nature v Nurture.
       Mohammad looks to me, “Is that man still alive?”
And in this still moment it no longer
       matters how disparate our worlds are –
our dreams are common – we both want to be
       the swimming man in that picture,
we want small animals to love us hard, unconditionally.
       And even though I’ve been told not to,
I open my laptop, “We’ll Google him and see.”
       “Yes,” Mohammad says. “Google.”
Ah, he died in 1989, but poor Konrad Lorenz,
        what a life he led, a medic drafted by the Nazis
then captured by the Russians, four years in Siberia.
        “Why the Russians?” Mohammad asks.
The boy, it turns out, does not know
        who was on whose side during World War II,
so we have to discuss that, we have to discuss
        how the swimming man with the ducklings,
oh, how he must have suffered in those prisons.
       “Like Rikers?” Mohammad asks.
“Yes!” I nod, give a thumbs-up. “Yes, like Rikers!”
       “Hitler,” the boy repeats after I say the name.
“He had the crazy hair, and stuck his tongue out?”
       “No, no! That was Einstein. Hitler had the moustache,
but Einstein was a Jew, afraid of Hitler
       so he escaped to America, taught at Princeton.”
The boy tries to take it all in, so much information.
       I see this could go on forever – Eisenhower, the ‘50s,
Cold War, Hula Hoops, Civil Rights,
       Dr. King, Elvis, the Infield Fly Rule!
“But Einstein made the bomb.” Mohammad says.
       “Well, I think that was more Robert Oppenheimer.”
I spell the name as Mohammad taps the keys
       then hits Images faster than I thought possible,
what brings up a schematic diagram,
       lines, numbers, colorful equations filling the screen,
a picture of a centrifuge, which is when
       the Head-Tutor-Woman is again at our back,
“What are you showing him? What are you showing him?”
       And then she’s acting like I’ve done a really bad thing,
she’s acting like it’s some kind of huge deal
       to show Mohammad Mohammad
detailed instructions for building a nuclear weapon.
       And this, as it turns out, is the last day
in my short history as a tutor.



Rupert Fike’s collection of poems, Lotus Buffet (Brick Road Poetry Press) was named Finalist in the Georgia Author of the Year awards, 2011. He has received Pushcart Prize nominations in fiction and poetry with his work appearing in The Southern Review of Poetry, Natural Bridge, A & U America’s AIDS Magazine, The Buddhist Poetry Review and others. He has a poem inscribed in a downtown Atlanta plaza, and his non-fiction book, Voices from The Farm, is now in its second printing with accounts of life on a spiritual community in Tennessee.

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