Darius Atefat-Peckham

Do You Speak Persian?

There was once an entire species of armored worms until
there wasn’t. I couldn’t pronounce their names so I loved them

instead. Often I switch past and present. I will will them
back: they were extinct. Bibi says I speak

bookish. My mother spoke like a school-
girl. I speak it yes, I do, but I don’t know it. I feel

dusty. At the dentist someone opens me
up, someone else’s breath in my mouth. I hate these

modern languages fluent in their
changing—changing without me, ebbing, flowing, big as a moon,

a sea. After all, how many ways could there possibly be
to say thank you. I feel

at home there. I feel all this knowing
shifting like fig leaves in her mouth, swearing at

the gardener’s whore of a sister. Once you                    learn
Persian other languages you learn                    easily. I’m not sure

I want to learn                    anything anymore.



Better Persian


I’m worrying about how I don’t know much when Bibi
tells me I speak better Persian than my mother’s. But
this can’t be. My mother was that other country
fluent in everything, all its harbors, mountains, deserts put

to sleep by her soliloquy. Her body ribboned with
color, euphonious dress of a dancer, great warrior
hero sure-stepping into battle. Was the froth
of a river or a curling snow-storm in the Zagros

the spine that bore that weight. Was an orator of the souls
of that other country, singing moosh bokhoradet
you are so cute a mouse eats you!
fluent in the phrases
of the mother tongue. Was a marionette crow

soaring across all the landmarks I know, was the stuff
of legend. Wasn’t she? Sailing the better Persian Gulf.


Wasn’t she? After all these years, I can’t help but believe
in her fluency. Like an infant uncertain of the sky
in its mouth, turning, crawling back. There were times
when I wished to travel so badly, so desperately,

and Bibi would say, already turning away, you have
in your mama’s belly.
And I’d rack my memory,
I still do, for the sight and the smell, the taste of that sky
in her belly, my mother’s belly, holding her sleeve

as we walked that earth together, pointing out here
or there a famous king buried, kicking, breathing in his

limestone womb, umbilical shuddering the wind like
a kite or a small silvering animal as we go. My

mother leading me by the hand as she preaches
in better Persian directions for how to get there.



Darius Atefat-Peckham is an Iranian-American poet and essayist. His work has appeared in Indiana Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Texas Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Brevity, Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including My Shadow is My Skin: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora (University of Texas Press). Atefat-Peckham lives in Huntington, West Virginia and studies Creative Writing at Harvard College.