Nahal Suzanne Jamir

Will I Still Be Persian If My Mother Dies?

If she dies in her bed in the middle of the night in her house all
alone, only
the high-vaulted ceiling between her
and my father, her prophet,
her god.

          Maybe I wish that were all that were between us—
          high-vaulted ceiling, instead of years, measured in nights of
          dead husband/father, lost homeland, lost eyesight, and then
          lost prophet, lost god.

If she falls, unheard like that tree in the forest,
and cannot get up
ever again.

If she has to have heart surgery
and never wakes up.

If she gets lung cancer,
small cell, the kind
with exfoliating micro-beads,
a deadly spa for the lungs
          and for me. All deadly for me.

And if her weak eyes finally fail her and she cannot see
her own reflection in the mirror—
in me—
          is that death, too?

Will I still be Persian
if I don’t have her voice on the phone
if I don’t have her house to go back to
if I don’t have her food, her hands that made them in my mouth,
          her hands in my mouth
          her hands.

          Going through the drive-thru at the bank one
          summer day,
          she looked at my fingers and asked me
          what was wrong with them.
          All I could think was that they were fat
          or idle, or for pleasure,
          or for writing sadness and anger and that was pleasure.

If I
don’t have her cough
don’t have her garden
don’t have her maiden name, the security question I always use it for,
          What is your mother’s maiden name?
          don’t have her broken English, still broken after a lifetime here,
          (and, forgive me, forgive me, but now also broken heart, spirit)
          but beautiful as only broken things can be—
          mosaic, found art, unearthed thing never discovered and shattered so long ago—
          because they, these broken things,
          can be put back together somehow,

          and aren’t they better for the breaking?
          and aren’t they better for the breaking?

          Last spring
          she sent me a greeting card with several
          small butterflies on the front,
          and wrote inside “You my butterfly”
          because I told her
          about the Mirabal sisters as I
          taught it this time around,
          those foolish rebels….
          I say to those sisters and my mother, “What about your children?
          Stop fighting.”
          My once-young-mother was the opposite,
          a rebel, yes
          but a woman without children—though sometimes
          I think she had us all along, and we her—

          One card—small butterflies on the front,
          Two card—this one with a picture of a butterfly and sunflowers—
          three card, four?
          Will there be two more to equal four sisters? Did
          she listen? Will I still be
          if she doesn’t listen?

          Only three sisters died.
          One was left to think and tell.

          My sister and I are only two
          My mother and I are only two
          Not three, not four.

Will I still be Persian
if I don’t tell anyone that I am
and they assume I’m not
or that I am Indian
or Italian—
or an old black man asks so angrily,
“Are you black, or are you white?”

Will I still be Persian
if I don’t cook
don’t drink wine
don’t wear gold
don’t dance
don’t speak Persian




or have to apologize for my country,
not hers, again
and again

for my father and my sister again
and again

if I don’t have brown skin

if I’m not Muslim

if I don’t love right
or well enough
or hard enough
(Mother writes to father in broken
English, I love you harder and
every day….)
or enough
or enough
or enough

or make my mother cry on New Year’s Eve
for no good reason—

if I have to apologize for myself again
and again

          While the White Man Sleeps

          I try to find voices
          that will help me
          I have trouble sleeping—
          need to drink myself to sleep
          not just now
          but since forever
          Beginning of Time
          There was music instead once.
          The music used to be classical:
          Mozart, Horn Concerto No. 3 in E Flat
          (No. 4, my favorite, but too exciting
          for sleep) and
          Beethoven, Symphony No. 1.

          you know

          white men

          drink, too.

          Sometimes, a poem (by Rumi?)
          I can hear it—
          the music.
          I try to find     the music

I’m not special.
I am the same as

before I was Persian
I am


Nahal Suzanne Jamir’s writing has previously been published in Crab Orchard Review, Los Angeles Review, Meridian, and Passages North. Her short fiction collection In the Middle of Many Mountains was published by Press 53 in 2013. She obtained her Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Florida State University and currently teaches at a private high school in Tallahassee, Florida.