“The Wrong Person to Ask” by Marjorie Lotfi Gill

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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