Returning to the US, he asks
my occupation. Teacher.

What do you teach?
Poetry.

I hate poetry, the officer says,
I only like writing
where you can make an argument.

Anything he asks, I must answer.
This he likes, too.

I don’t tell him
he will be in a poem
where the argument will be

anti-American.

I place him here, puffy,
pink, ringed in plexi, pleased

with his own wit
and spittle. Saving the argument
I am let in

I am let in until

More by Solmaz Sharif

Mess Hall

Your knives tip down
in the dish rack
of the replica plantation home,
you wash hands

with soaps pressed into seahorses
and scallop shells white
to match your guest towels,
and, like an escargot fork,

you have found the dimensions
small enough to break
a man—
a wet rag,

a bullet on the back of the cup
the front
like a bishop or an armless knight
of the Ku Klux Klan

the silhouette
through your nighttime window
a quartet
plays a song you admire,

outside a ring of concertina wire
circles around a small collapse.
America, ignore the window and look at your lap:
even your dinner napkins are on fire.

Force Visibility

Everywhere we went, I went
in pigtails
no one could see—

ribbon curled
by a scissor’s sharp edge,
the bumping our cars

undertook when hitting
those strips
along the interstate

meant to shake us
awake. Everywhere we went
horses bucking

their riders off,
holstered pistols
or two Frenchies

dancing in black and white
in a torn-apart
living room,

on the big screen
our polite cow faces
lit softly

by New Wave Cinema
I will never
get into. The soft whir

of CONTINUOUS STRIP IMAGERY.
What is fascism?

A student asked me

and can you believe
I couldn’t remember
the definition?

The sonnet,
I said.
I could’ve said this:

our sanctioned twoness.
My COVERT pigtails.
Driving to the cinema

you were yelling
This is not
yelling
you corrected

in the car, a tiny
amphitheater. I will
resolve this
I thought

and through that
RESOLUTION, I will be
a stronger compatriot.

This is fascism.
Dinner party
by dinner party,

waltz by waltz,
weddings ringed
by admirers, by old

couples who will rise
to touch each other
publicly.

In INTERTHEATER TRAFFIC
you were yelling
and beside us, briefly

a sheriff’s retrofitted bus.
Full or empty
was impossible to see.


Deception Story

 

Friends describe my DISPOSITION

as stoic. Like a dead fish, an ex said. DISTANCE

is a funny drug and used to make me a DISTRESSED PERSON,

one who cried in bedrooms and airports. Once I bawled so hard at the border, even the man with the stamps and holster said Don’t cry. You’ll be home soon. My DISTRIBUTION

over the globe debated and set to quota. A nation can only handle so many of me. DITCHING

class, I break into my friend’s dad’s mansion and swim in the Beverly Hills pool in a borrowed T-shirt. A brief DIVERSION.

My body breaking the chlorinated surface makes it, momentarily, my house, my DIVISION

of driveway gate and alarm codes, my dress-rehearsed DOCTRINE

of pool boys and ping pong and water delivered on the backs of sequined Sparkletts trucks. Over here, DOLLY,

an agent will call out, then pat the hair at your hot black DOME.

After explaining what she will touch, backs of the hands at the breasts and buttocks, the hand goes inside my waistband and my heart goes DORMANT.

A dead fish. The last female assist I decided to hit on. My life in the American Dream is a DOWNGRADE,

a mere DRAFT

of home. Correction: it satisfies as DRAG.

It is, snarling, what I carve of it alone.

Related Poems

When the Orders Came

"[We are] calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
             —Trump’s administrative team, December 7, 2015

they shipped us to the sanctuary camps
& we forgot our other countries.

like good schoolchildren we sung
the anthem loud, so loud
until we could hear nothing else.

not the birds delighting
over their young, or the dogs’ snarl
at our feet, or him on the news

hourly, growling. this is the cost
of looking the other way
when they come for us:

I build safety inside you
& wake in cuffs.
I’m all mouth. every morning

I whisper my country my country my country
& my hands stay empty.
what is land but land? a camp

but a camp? sanctuary
but another grave? I am an architect.
I permission everything

into something new.
I build & build
& someone takes it away.

Where I Am Not

I ask the new migrant if he regrets leaving Russia.
We have dispensed already with my ancestry.
He says no. For a time, he was depressed. He found
with every return he missed what he left behind.
A constant state of this. Better to love by far
where you are. He taps the steering wheel of his car,
the hum of the engine an imperceptible tremble
in us. When he isn’t driving, he works tending
to new trees. I’ve seen these saplings popping
up all over the suburbs, tickling the bellies
of bridges, the new rooted darlings of the State.
The council spent a quarter mil on them &
someone, he—Lilian—must ensure the dirt
holds. Gentrification is climate-friendly now.
I laugh and he laughs, and we eat the distance
between histories. He checks on his buds daily.
Are they okay? They are okay. They do not need
him, but he speaks, and they listen or at least
shake a leaf. What a world where you can live off
land by loving it. If only we cared for each other
this way. The council cares for their investment.
The late greenery, that is, not Lilian, who shares
his ride on the side. I wonder what it would cost 
to have men be tender to me regularly, 
to be folded into his burly, to be left on the side
of the road as he drove away, exhausted. Even
my dreams of tenderness involve being used
& I’m not sure who to blame: colonialism,
capitalism, patriarchy, queerness or poetry?
Sorry, this is a commercial for the Kia Sportage
now. This is a commercial for Lilian’s thighs.
He didn’t ask for this and neither did I—how
language drapes us together, how stories tongue
each other in the back seat and the sky blurs
out of frame. There are too many agonies
to discuss here, and I am nearly returned.
He has taken me all the way back, around
the future flowering, back to where I am not,
to the homes I keep investing in as harms.
I should fill them with trees. Let the boughs
cover the remembered boy, cowering
under a mother, her raised weapon
not the cane but the shattering within,
let the green tear through the wall
paper, let life replace memory. Lilian, I left
you that day, and in the leaving, a love
followed. Isn’t that a wonder and a wound?
Tell me which it is, I confess I mistake the two.
I walk up the stairs to my old brick apartment
where the peach tree reaches for the railing,
a few blushing fruits poking through the bars,
eager to brush my leg, to say linger, halt.
I want to stop, to hold it for real, just once
but I must wait until I am safe.

Separation Wall

When the milk is sour,
it separates.

The next time you stop speaking,
ask yourself why you were born.

They say they are scared of us.
The nuclear bomb is scared of the cucumber.

When my mother asks me to slice cucumbers,
I feel like a normal person with fantastic dilemmas:

Do I make rounds or sticks? Shall I trim the seeds?
I ask my grandmother if there was ever a time

she felt like a normal person every day,
not in danger, and she thinks for as long

as it takes a sun to set and says, Yes.
I always feel like a normal person.

They just don’t see me as one.
We would like the babies not to find out about

the failures waiting for them. I would like
them to believe on the other side of the wall

is a circus that just hasn’t opened yet. Our friends,
learning how to juggle, to walk on tall poles.