Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Farnaz

1. 
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. 

2. 
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. 

3. 
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. 

Credit


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.

About this Poem


“Of all the poems in my book, Sister Tongue, this poem changed the most from its inception. It began as an origin story. So many memories showed up that it took several years for me to really listen. The poem keeps wanting to help me name the experience of being twinned, being bicultural, being split but not broken. I love my name, but my name has been a crucial part of how I learned to sit with discomfort. This poem wants to remind me that even my name waited for me to love it.”
Farnaz Fatemi

Author


Farnaz Fatemi

Farnaz Fatemi is an Iranian American poet and the author of Sister Tongue (Kent State University Press, 2022), winner of the 2021 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize.

Date Published: 2022-03-29

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/farnaz