Poetry at Sangam



Once Upon a Time by Amy Motlagh

And the suburbs are the same all over America:
soothing sterility of supermarket, excess
of the empty doughnut shop, the familiar
small discourtesies enacted in parking lot
and with shopping cart, in the cash-only line
and the carpool lane.
Here, the distances between traffic lights
are long and similar, each pause
cause for a small irritation
we conceal in the nacre of days—
days that pass uncounted, not like rounds slid down
an abacus, but like the beads my grandmother fingered
as she watched us from the center of the sofa:
silent, replete, still but for the knuckles working
stones like the seeds of a pomegranate
along the thick stem of floss, irregular
garnet droplets so unlike the pearls fathers give
their American daughters for birthdays, commencements.
Those products of irritation are resolved in loveliness;
in trophies to be hung from the neck, posted
in the ears as sentinels of grace:
an immigrant girl’s modest privileged adornment.
She would watch us just so, her face intent but impassive,
fingers traveling the strand more rapidly than the words fell
carelessly from my mouth, indecipherable and cruel.
Yekī būd, yekī nabūd: Once upon a time,
one sister’s words become toads
and the other’s, diamonds,
but my words were only stones
dropping heavily on this woman
who understood nothing I said
but followed each rise and fall of my breath
as though I were a bottle decanting a precious liquid
and no drop should be wasted.
←Amy Motlagh