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.
~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.