Confessional to Famous Iranian Pop Singer Dariush

~Dariush was imprisoned before the Islamic Revolution for what he refers to as his deep beliefs.

Sitting in the pews as a boy, I told the time by how hot my tongue became, 
my mouth clamped shut, the coolness of my toothpaste faded as the morning faded. 
I bent over my book. There was something too clean about this. 
The old white faces peering out like suns, the sheen

of robes hovering near the altar. Rows of people presenting themselves, 
a fish market. I never could skip the sex scenes in my book, one hand a shield 
to the cross—I never could remember 
their names no matter what I did—my other hand stayed 

cold. The stiffness at my crotch. My standing for communion. Failing 
to catch the eye of the teenage acolyte with her candle, I worried I’d be a virgin for
the rest of my life. And I always wished I could dance. Like Elvis 
like Michael. Humiliated by the body. Humiliated by my stepmother wanting me to believe

in something, anything. At least sing the hymns. Believe in something, believe,
I urged myself. My great-grandfather the devout Muslim 
would clean his hands incessantly before prayer, or so my mother 
wrote. I never knew him. When my great-grandfather died, he was surrounded

by a pool of his own filth. Shamed, she said in Persian— 
the word for shame and embarrassment synonymous, the light through stained glass  
imagined light. I practice Jackson’s moves 
in my mirror. For a year I take hip-hop lessons. I try to break-

dance. I realize too late it is a solo act. I am bullied mercilessly. I learn 
from the boys in my class that dancing is gay. I hate 
the spotlight. My family in Iran has dance parties. My grandparents send
videos. I think their arms looked like samaras, whirligigs, wingtips weaving in

and out of one another’s airflow. I felt joyful. I felt 
betrayed by everyone. I wanted to disappear in the pew with my book. The smell of wax, 
like a steaming cup of water, the breath of my
father singing hymns, the melt. I liked to watch the people stand and sit and

kneel and stand, their prayers foaming at the lip, pulsing, mouth open at release.

Copyright © 2021 by Darius Atefat-Peckham. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 26, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.