The Patient Stone
The Wi-Fi is banned indefinitely. And so
she wants to send the letter of her body
home. Nastaliq shekasteh. Broken handwriting.
She wants to join the protests, burn
her hijab. I would forbid it if I could: her
leaving me. I wish to be the patient stone.
The patient stone listens. Absorbs
the sorrows of those who confide
in it. When two beings are inseparable, and
is pronounced o. Layla o Majnun,
Gol o morg, Khosrow o Shirin, my Bibi
o her country. Séance of my ear harboring
secrets, dribbling like a mouth
at a fountain. Our voices cling to one another.
Our eyes distend, bursting. As I wait
to board my train, she asks how
my Persian is doing as if it is a sick relative
or a child in trouble at school. The man in me
grovels his sorrows in the desert basin,
his memory making mud from the dirt.
Even I—Even I—Even I—I say and she listens,
eyes downcast, waiting for her turn to speak.
There is a woman carved
into helmet shell, now haunting
the space just below my knuckle.
Useless, I slip her in my pocket
and take a watering can by its wing.
I wear a new ring for every day of my life.
I do this with most things, making them
permanent. The face of a moon peaks
out from beneath Isabella’s shirt-sleeve.
She holds her dress at either side. Is it
raining there? Is there mud? Born
from the soil, dusted clean, put to
my lips. I plan to have many. They will know
who I am, accrued across my fingers,
hung down hollows of my neck, waiting to be
lost back. How do I mean? I am not meant
for this. I stand in the rain, dumfounded
and searching, wiping myself from my eyes.
I wait for the right conditions to put my self
to practice. I am told to express myself
this way, just nothing permanent, please.
I am obsessed with myself. Like
a planet, I long for something I can’t
slip off at night and forget to wear
in the morning. I want to make it all wuthering,
whatever that means. I want to be clothed, fed,
taken care of. The hands of my love. Tomatoes
so sweet my eyes flutter and moan.
The accidental salt of fingertips, like an ocean
at my lips, teaching me something
about worship. That question there, sealing me
shut: if she was too good for this world,
as they say, what does that make me,
still standing here, gathering myself
at the gate?
~for Tahereh—poet, activist, martyr
When the Eyes open, finally,
they won’t yield
to touch. Like ice-
flowers reaching to catch the soil. To blossom,
the mystics wrote, is to open
her smile. A man sits, head
wrapped, holding conversation
with a parking meter. A real poet haunts, her mouth
full of white silk, singing quiet
Ta-das! to take our breath
away. Ta meaning: so that, up to, until
then, rather than—sometimes, even,
when. Is translation the least we can offer?
Is there even less? What remains
down the well that terrify us
we offer pebble and coin
to bury it. Some men learn
to be ghosts before they ever
learn to die.
The needle occasionally punched through her finger and nail / so a smear of red remained on whatever she was making. She seemed to elongate as she worked, growing wide / as an ocean, big and tall as Paul Bunyan with his ax. Confidently and forever / the story of a wedding dress, The Boy’s / mother, the thousands upon thousands of pearls inlaid, glinting like eyes. How it came to life beneath her / fingers. To sew is to see stitched / to an end. He watched her rings, wishing he could wear them. Everything came from her, even The Boy, even her own name. A name she stitched / together from The Boy’s pronunciation / of the cardinal considering Him on the balcony as He sat in His high-chair one summer’s day. Birbie…Birbie…Bibi! He clapped at the bright winged / thing alighting on the railing, light as the feathers that made it. She dropped / the tool she’d been using to feed Him (startled the cardinal, who disappeared into the burning, unblinking eye above, making The Boy frown) and ran inside, yelling with elation to no one, to anyone / who would listen, He said His first word! He said His first / word, and His first word was / me! At the end of the night, she rested / her ruined, arthritic fingers against the table, her foot lingering at the pedal. Una corda / sostenuto / damper. The Boy watched—it was all He could do—her foot slowly rising / winged, letting go the sound.
I Am Not Disappearing
To be a Boy, there are rules. Chief
among them is that I must not
die, even when the words escape me
like lightning bugs
dying in my jar, making their short lives
shorter. I must tell no one
about the ghosts of them fluttering up against
the glass. Flickering gray
then grayer. Must act as though they
never happened, hold
my hands cuffed as I wait in line
for security, surrendering my Real
ID. A woman just ahead of me
says to her child, over and over,
her hand held tight to her ear
like some body’s small chest:
I’m not disappearing.
I’m not disappearing. She is
saying. Is sung. My mother once
snuck her pet gerbil through
like a fugitive tucked in a barrel,
a toilet paper roll squeezed between
her legs. All that, just so the secret
body could travel a bit further
and die, later and alone, taken
apart in the strong maw
of her husband’s boyhood
pet. What can be
done? My father used to laugh
until he cried. The dog was trained
to keep out pests and she was
old and blind and miserable,
anyhow. It’s the natural order
of things. A story always comes
to mind, knocking like a chick
to be let back in
its shell, prodding the membrane
of my eye: my mother
once mourned. Now, I
walk past every officer, the after-lives
of wriggling animals tucked
between my legs like a suspicious
lotion or IM hip rod or family
curse. I can never quite
depart. I feel their evil
eyes sown across my shoulders
like wings, just like my grandma
warned, their tired lids
are shut. But I think it may be harder to admit
that when the TSA agent doesn’t order me
step aside, when I glide
through the gate—known
traveler, transparent as Ghost—I miss
those hands patting me down
like earth. Halving me. Reminding me
that what the crow does
on the side of the hot dirt road
is a kindness. To untie a body
from itself, a kindness. Assuring me
of my held breath. I’m there,
in a body of delayed
that hasn’t happened yet—reaching
me in the welling look
of people I long
Darius Atefat-Peckham is the author of the chapbook How Many Love Poems (Seven Kitchens Press, 2021) and editor of his mother’s, Susan Atefat-Peckham’s, posthumous collection Deep Are These Distances Between Us (CavanKerry Press, 2023). His work has recently appeared in Poetry Magazine, Poem-a-Day, Shenandoah, Rattle, The Journal, The Georgia Review, and elsewhere. Atefat-Peckham grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, and currently studies English and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard.
Still images from Drunken Angel (醉いどれ天使, Yoidore Tenshi), a 1948 film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It is notable for being the first of sixteen film collaborations between director Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune.