War in her mouth

War in the living room. Every Friday,
my mother painted it.

Every Friday—her day off, for a year—
another piece of the looming billboard of her canvas
became body, boot, fire,

bare feet of a running girl,
flexed arm of a running soldier,

silver sheen on his rifle’s black barrel
soft folds in her cotton dress,
a tree in flames and sunlit dust,

arches, domes, olive fatigues,
bombed bridge broken sky Middle East.

We were in New Jersey,
and the barefoot girl was on our coffee table,
running across a page in a magazine,

through my mother’s body, out her mind—
onto the canvas,

her skin, our skin.

Our ancestors, born in the mountains of Khorasan, Iran,
strolled through orchards in Baghdad,
recited in Damascus,
tended the fires in Yazd,
touched the Black Stone, said

                        The meadow is my prayer rug.
                        Cypress trees, my minarets,
                        and the wind, my call to prayer.

One Friday, my mother needed a model.

To render the surreal real or real surreal,
my mother needed to study the protruding clavicle
of a running girl.

I froze for her

In her palette of grief and rage,
love was the obscured and persistent undertone.
Friday after Friday,

the girl took shape and the soldier,
chasing her, me—

my clavicle, her clavicle,
my flesh, her flesh.

Copyright © 2024 by Haleh Liza Gafori. This poem was first printed in The Brooklyn Rail (December 2023 / January 2024). Used with the permission of the author.