May 15, 2018

Marjorie Lotfi Gill


Tehran, 1977

Ask me for the measure of rose water
in baklava, how to butter each layer of filo
away from the corner so it holds itself apart
under heat, or the exact crush of pistachio,
fine as rubble, not yet dust.

Ask why the man squatting on our roof
in the worst sun of Ramadan refused even a sip
of my water, waved it away like a drink offered
in rain. Ask about the fountain out back, its patter
of stray drops against sidewalk the devil’s music.
Hitchi, he’d said, I want nothing.

Ask me how to speak one kind of English
at school and another at home.

Ask about the cherry tree at the bottom
of the garden, and the only time I remember
it in fruit: my father smiling, pulling me
from the cleft of its branches in darkness.

Ask about the bars on my bedroom window.

Ask me how many sugar cubes I could slip into
my chai before Maman Bozorg noticed. (Four.)

Ask about giving live chicks in a cardboard box
as a get-well gift for a child with chicken pox.

Ask why the baker mixed the dough for barbari
in an old claw-footed tub before feeding
stretched handfuls into the mouth of the fire.

Ask about the army of ants, daytimes, and the scattering
of cockroaches, nights, how they can fly into dreams.

Ask about Kadijeh and Anola, their mud-walled hut
squat in our rose garden, tending the Shomal house
and their sealed mouths for twenty-five years.

Ask me about chicken soup for a childhood cold,
the beheading of a bird for my benefit, the refusal
to open my mouth in gratitude.

Ask how the grandfather clock of a samovar,
its bubble and hiss, marks out time in the house.

Ask me how to taarof, how to say no
when you mean yes.

Ask about my Ameh, the warmth of her arms around
my skinny frame, her language that seeped across
my tongue. Ask how I can have forgotten Farsi
and the sound of her voice bidding me, night
after night, to sleep, to let the day go.

Ask me how to listen.

from Poets Respond


Marjorie Lotfi Gill: “Because I am half Iranian and grew up in Iran, people have been asking me what I think about President Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal this week. This poem is what I wish they would ask instead.” (web)

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December 7, 2014

Marjorie Lotfi Gill


after Cornelia Parker’s “Landscape with Gun and Tree”

like a rifle leant against tree
in a winter wood, is just waiting
to go off. Look closely: decoy paisley
adorns the inlay, and one tear-shaped
dropper points a warning
from the sidelock. When held,
the trigger needs no convincing,
no embellishment, is as familiar
as the handle of that old
hunting knife handed
down from your father
as your great-grandfather’s
one good thing.

Poets Respond
December 7, 2014

[download audio]


Marjorie Lotfi Gill: “In a week where protests continue about the shootings in Ferguson and elsewhere, Cornelia Parker’s ‘Landscape with Gun and Tree‘ seems a fitting metaphor for both the genesis of violence and how our culture chooses to respond to it.”

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August 10, 2014

Marjorie Lotfi Gill


I would like to tell her not to wear such flimsy shoes,
that rubble contains the whole spectrum of knowable
and unknowable dangers: sheets of metal, ripped
to knife’s edge, live wires, bloated arms still reaching

for light. Her hair, scraped back into a ponytail,
is open to sky; remnants of buildings filter down
one concrete chunk at a time, and the midday bells
of rockets ring out above her. She carries a boy

on her still-narrow hips, his legs entwined around
her life-jacket-yellow dungarees. Like a rodeo rider,
his left arm grips her shoulder to steady himself, or her,
while torso recoils back and away; his body is asking

to slow down, to turn back. Instead, her eyes comb
the ground for a next step, fingers of her free hand
curled into a claw, as if to frighten off whatever
is coming, what she somehow knows is ahead.

Poets Respond
August 10, 2014

[download audio]


Marjorie Lotfi Gill: “A Reuters photograph of a very young girl carrying an even smaller boy through the rubble in Gaza has haunted me all week. Even at such a young age, our bodies and brains are wired to step up to enormous responsibility, become the one in charge, take on the role of protector. To me, the picture is moving because it reveals the greatest thing she’s lost in the conflict: her childhood.”

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