Our parents argued in a language
we didn’t understand. We were born
in Las Vegas or Teheran,
twin cities of fantasy and chance. My
sister and I found our words in Long
Beach, Big Wheels and Barbies,
Bluebird troops and kidnap breakfasts.
A war forced our cousins
to buy false passports, lose their savings.
We ate Chef Boyardee after school,
hot spinach and meatball soup
on the weekends. I yelled into a phone
so my Iranian family could hear
me. I learned I was the silk carpet
my mother didn’t own, the casino
payout my father kept chasing.
I didn’t know until later
the Persian Leopard was trapped
in the Zagros mountains after
the Iran-Iraq war, in danger
of tripping old mines.
I taught myself who I was
by watching my sister carefully.
I worried when
the day came and I wanted
to say I’m not her. First out the womb,
she was named and I wasn’t.
Her name is Iranian but sayable
by everyone. My name
would wait. They waited until
they knew they had it right.
Not Sheila, my mother’s veto.
Farnaz, a name that made me lonely.
We lived in between Iran
and America, a customs declaration zone.
By the time I was born
my mute parents wondered
how to speak as Americans
as they moved away
from the people who loved them.
How could I know the dark
inside their mouths hurt them, too.
My father studied numbers in the racing
forms, and I bet following my gut.
I influenced dice at the craps table
by spinning three times
in each direction while my father
placed his bets. Even now,
I’ll retell stories in my head
one hundred times to end them right.
It’s a system.
I came from the racetrack, ignoring
all the horses in the flesh. I sounded out
the names of long shots.
The odds say Blinding Telegram
will win, but I like the music
of Queen the Fox.
I believed that how I got my name would mean
something. I am still finding the names for some things:
the youth my parents brought to parenting, the attention
I didn’t know I was waiting for, the word for wanting,
feeling its deep hole. Such naming
I have been slow to do. I am waiting until I have it right.
I know that once named there is a road
down which that named thing runs,
and I am not the one who built the road.
Copyright © 2022 by The Kent State University Press. From the forthcoming book Sister Tongue, by Farnaz Fatemi (September 2022). Published in Poem-a-Day on March 29, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.