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Kelley White
While learning English, the painted chair is Al Ahmed’s autobiography.

He paints Bagdad, sweet childhood nights on the roof under star-filled heavens before the family travelled to Egypt for refuge. On the chair back he paints seven birds, his birds, that came each night as the family spread out carpets in the coolness, mother, father, two brothers, two sisters, seven together feasting and singing, his family’s whole world—still complete before the night his brother was stolen. On the chair’s seat he paints a rock dove in a circle of barbed wire. And a boy who raises his arms to free his beloveds, tosses seven birds into the sky above Bagdad. Seven years in Egypt. Waiting for the U.S. In high school, still learning English, he paints angry mustached faces on the front legs, featureless faces on the back, incomplete, the painted chair is Al Ahmed’s autobiography, and he has given it to me.