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.

Related Poems

Apology from a Muslim Orphan

I know you know
how to shame into obedience
the long chain tethering lawnmower
to fence. And in your garden
are no chrysanthemums, no hem
of lace from the headscarf
I loose for him at my choosing.
Around my throat still twines a thin line
from when, in another life, I was
guillotined. I know you know
how to slap a child across the face
with a sandal.
Forgive me. I love when he tells me to be
the water you siphon into the roots
of your trees. In that life,
I was your enemy and silverleaf.  
In this one, the child you struck was me.

Essay on Synonyms for Tender and a Confession

                      —For Sandra María Esteves

Color it all blue.

                      My father and my father’s father and his.

                      Marcelo
                      Marcelo
                      Marcelo


           And all of us in one suitcase that hasn’t been opened.
           I haven’t been opened.


                                  And I say to my father,
                                  I want to be all pink. For one day.
                      To name each part of me after the names of my mother’s lovers,
                      To throw my head back and dance like someone pretty,
                                            or just hold the shame in my hand.


           And sometimes this doesn’t stop me.


My name a two-hundred-year-old word for Please.

                                  As in, please let me open the suitcase.
                                  As in, please let me play whatever is inside.


           And sometimes my name talks to me.
                                            It says, you ain’t shit.

           It says I could send you flowers but what’s the point
           if they will still be flowers when you get them.

                              It says even the priests are lonely.
                  It comes to me as one priest confessing to another:


                  Marcelo, I want the red dress
                  and to throw my hair up real beauty queen style.


If I’m lonely, put the bright birds back in their cages.

                                                                 Marcelo, I wanted a gun.
                                                       I’m not ready to be dipped in water.


Like you, like a father.


                                                And so I opened the lid
                  and held each flute inside like shattered glass.


            But there was no song, there was hardly any glitter.


And the priest who is no longer Marcelo,
                  and the flute which is no longer Marcelo,
                  and the lover who is.


                  I don’t know what it means to name a child.
                  When he said my name, I opened his eyes.


                                          I played the song.

                                          Neither of us knew how it ended.
         We would have paid anything at all to make it stop.

Mira pushes aside the mountain you are climbing

Desire is never one way. Black
          snakes crawl through your throat. The divine longs

for human proximity to divinity. The divine longs
            for touch. You have not wanted

a body. And you have
            wanted. A careless
tongue can make chatter
but unrequited love
          can make an avalanche.
Your teeth chatter and you know

            somewhere a funeral parade is moving, one ant
after another marching. Your snake shed its skins as the curve of a               pilgrimage
          awaiting dawn. Heaven is too much a metaphor

to be of use to a lover weeping for
a false love. Every shaman needs a healer
and every God a devotee they can admire.

When God comes back from the pilgrimage, you are more
          plump. Everyone can see your wisdoms
sprouting. This time — dangerous. Even women

          will cast stones. Watch the people’s hands: they carry
shards of their half-spoken dreams. But you have

                          invented an embrace. In the first worship,
you make the one devoted to devotion devoted to you.

You bring the mountain
into your lips. Without

prayer, your mouth blooms.