Kaveh Akbar is the founding editor of Divedapper. His poems appear recently or soon in Poetry, Ploughshares, APR, Tin House, and elsewhere. His debut collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, will be published by Alice James Books in Fall 2017. The recipient of a 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, Kaveh was born in Tehran, Iran, and currently lives and teaches in Tallahassee.
the rainwater here is full of phosphorous if you drink too much
your kidneys fail everything has limits my grandfather fixed watches
for half a century until cataracts thick as figskin took his eyes we tell
this kind of story to stay humble consider the carnival geek choking
on chicken blood consider the dazzling fortress of copper sucked back
into the earth the soldiers tumbling into the split were bad seeds
they never did sprout the best part of God is the math of God
you can count the pearls leading from here to him sometimes
faith feels too far away to be of any use a distant moon built
from the prophets’ holy bones other times it’s so near
I can hold it between my teeth I am as good as my word which is to say
I’m keyless as the language of twins the womb is a clammy pulp
of shredded tongues where we choose our obsessions I came out
hot as a punched jaw my head a beautiful blushing
pistachio to reach me now you will have to figure out
my birth name a hint it rhymes with Tassiopeia
do you understand what I’m saying I confess I have been trying
to seduce you I’m not the fat egg I claimed to be I’m sorry for that
and for all the tears the delicate emotions should have felt more
hypothetical I have mastered this grammar and little more
* Tassiopeia originally appeared in Guernica Magazine.
Do You Speak Persian?
SOME DAYS we can see Venus in midafternoon. Then at night,
stars separated by billions of miles, light traveling years
to die in the back of an eye.
Is there a vocabulary for this—one to make dailiness amplify
and not diminish wonder?
I have been so careless with the words I already have.
I don’t remember how to say home
in my first language, or lonely, or light.
I remember only
delam barat tang shodeh, I miss you,
and shab bekheir, goodnight.
How is school going, Kaveh-joon?
Delam barat tang shodeh.
Are you still drinking?
For so long every step I’ve taken
has been from one tongue to another.
To order the world:
I need, you need, he/she/it needs.
The rest left to a hungry jackal
in the back of my brain.
Right now our moon looks like a pale cabbage rose.
Delam barat tang shodeh.
We are forever folding into the night.
* “Do You Speak Persian?” was first published in Guernica Magazine
Discover more at:Guernicamag.com
LANDSCAPE WITH WINTER AND NOSEBLEED
I see it already the frost
coming toward me from
the woods in the woods
the trees bend over the river like
parasols like nurses there are
silver needles in the robins’
nests wild violets floating
in the air I’ll breathe the frost
then nosebleed into my
lap my blood will pool feeling
heavy as a skull my blood
is the color of a yellow
eye even God forgets God he
sucks a ruby to remind
him who he is I am comfortable
with decay as we all must
be here where glass shatters
back into sand
for every river
there are things that drown
the river is full
of plastic shovels and possum
hearts each tiny as
a grape a blackbird watches
ice float down the river
in his beak is a spider fitfully
waving I am still breathing
still buttered and nutrient-
rich there is a cane tapping
a path through the snow
there are no fireflies for miles
* LANDSCAPE WITH WINTER AND NOSEBLEED was first published in Pank Magazine. See more
Watch Kaveh Akbar reading his poem.
I WAS ALREADY AN AMERICAN LAST WEEK WHEN A LEAF FELL
from my hair mid-conversation, but certainly
after it happened I felt moreso. P giggled—she knows
I always provide a good show. I know I am not
turning into a tree or a pinecone or anything else
I have not already been. For decades I’ve smelled
like my mother (raspberry and nut meat) and sounded
like my brother (on the phone even our parents
can’t tell us apart). Mostly my days are mine
to do with as I please: speak in English, speak
in code, or not speak at all. Whatever I decide, I’ll go
to sleep with a headache. As a boy I imagined adulthood
would just be endless bowls of bastani sonnati: pistachio,
saffron, and clot after clot of frozen rosewater cream.
Instead it’s like blood sucked from a still-gasping
salmon—fresh, fought for, but not exactly sweet. Even
our corpses are improvable: in some places they dig
up the dead each year to dress in new clothes, putting a niece
in a dustless abaya, a still-handsome uncle in a starched
white suit. Once, drunk and amphetamined, I stayed up
all night licking a friend’s knives. In the morning
my tongue was shredded to ribbons, delicate as wet
newsprint. Almost anything can become kindling
if the fire’s big enough: a cellist’s bow, a bag
of vipers, an entire truckload of hair. The best fires
can hiss moisture right out of the air. The same
sounds will never mean the same thing.