my grandmother was called Nasreen,
that she died two years ago in Tabriz
and I couldn’t go to say goodbye,
that she knew nothing of power,
nuclear or otherwise. I want to say
that the bonﬁres for Chahar Shanbeh Suri
were built by our neighbour’s hands;
as children we were taught to jump over
and not be caught by the flames. I want to say
my cousin Elnaz, the one born after I left,
has a son and two degrees in Chemistry,
and had trouble getting a job. I want to say
that the night we swam towards
the moon hanging over the horizon
of the Caspian Sea, we found ourselves
kneeling on a sandbar we couldn’t see
like a last gift. I want to say
I’m the wrong person to ask.
The Wrong Person to Ask
Ask me for the measure of rose water
in baklava, how to butter each layer of ﬁlo
away from the corner so it holds itself
apart under heat, or the exact crush
of pistachio, ﬁne as rubble, not yet dust.
Ask why the man squatting on our roof
in the worst sun of Ramadan refused even a sip
of my water. Hitchi, he’d said, I want nothing.
Ask me how to speak one kind of English
at school and another at home.
Ask about the cherry tree at the bottom
of the garden, and the only time I remember it
in fruit: my father smiling, pulling me
from the cleft of its branches in darkness.
Ask about the bars on my bedroom window.
Ask me how many sugar cubes I could slip into
my chai before Maman Bozorg noticed. (Four.)
Ask me how to taarof, to say no when you mean
yes. Ask about the army of ants, daytimes,
and cockroaches, nights, how they ﬂy into dreams.
Ask how the grandfather clock of a samovar,
its bubble and hiss, marks out time in the house.
Ask about Ameh, her arms around my skinny frame,
or how I can have forgotten Farsi and the sound
of her voice bidding me each night to let the day go.
It doesn’t matter that she’s blonde,
this new daughter-in-law, doesn’t know
a word of Farsi, or how to taarof, always
refuse ﬁrst, before accepting a gift.
What you believe is your own trouble;
not one of us understands all the words
of our mother tongue. ‘Look at the eye,’
my father told me, ‘watch it speak.’
As long as you are here, I will be shelter,
will walk the length of my own bazaar
and ask the jeweller to sell me a cruciﬁx,
give it to you with these heavy words.
Believe in something: your hands pressed
together, palm to palm, are my body folded
into the namaz; each of us maps ourselves
in the mirror, measures what we already know.
Packing for America my father in Tabriz, 1960
He can’t take his mother in the suitcase,
the smell of khoresht in the air, her spice box
too tall to ﬁt. Nor will it close when he folds
her sajadah into its corners. He can’t bring
the way she rose and blew out the candles
at supper’s end, rolled up the oilcloth, marked
the laying out of beds, the beginning of night.
He knows the slap of her sandals across
the tiles will fade. He tosses photographs
into the case, though not one shows her eyes;
instead, she covers her mouth with her hand
as taught, looks away. He considers strapping
the samovar to his back like a child’s bag;
a lifetime measured in tea from its belly.
Finally, he takes her tulip glass, winds
a chador around its body, leaves the gold rim
peeking out like a mouth that might
tell him where to go, what is coming next.
14 On seeing Iran in the news, I want to say
15 The Wrong Person to Ask
16 Two Grandmothers
17 Maman Bozorg
18 The gun in its holster
19 Riding the Line
20 The Game
21 Crossing the street for mother’s cigarettes
22 Shut Out the Noise
23 Packing for America
25 To the Airport
27 The Last Thing
28 Alarm I
29 Alarm II
30 I Picture of Girl and Small Boy (Burij, Gaza, 2014)
31 II Picture of Boy, Looking Away (Gaza, 2015)
32 Gabriella’s Dream
33 What You See in the Dark
36 Destruction of the Forty Martyrs Cathedral, Aleppo, Syria
37 Granddaughter, I entered your mother’s house
38 Checkpoint, Matveyev Kurgan
40 The End of the Road
40 i [There’s a moment every morning]
41 ii [Each breath in this place]
42 iii [Every blade against the cutting-board]
43 iv [She takes her boys back every summer]
44 v [Even in this lack of light, she sees]
45 vi [The boys carry her good looks]
46 vii [In her eightieth year, she sees her sisters]
49 Sea Gooseberry (Pleurobrachia)
50 Sunday on the Luing Sound
51 Number 9 Cullipool
53 Star of the Sea
54 Williamina Fleming
55 What Work Is
56 Omega Centauri
58 Say It’s Nothing, Say It’s Rust
60 Out to Sea
61 When They Ask
62 The Trunk
63 After the Match
64 The ﬁrst thing he doesn’t forget
65 The Unﬁnished House
66 Storm Light
67 The Last Keeper
70 And this is how it begins
71 O Love!
72 Edward Thomas on His Last Night with Helen
74 The Hebridean Crab Apple
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