Nebraska Center for Writers

by Susan Atefat Peckham

Three days and they wrapped
his washed body in muslin,
no lumbering sounds of coffins
carried, only the white ripple
of cloth. I sat back where all
women sat, staring from behind
a wooden net, carved and set
aside. The others swayed
as if crows under the mirrored
dome of the mosque webbed
in their chadors, breathing cloth
in and out of their wailing,
in and out. Their black heads
bobbed against the carved light
of the wooden boundary, the roar
and echo of men beating themselves
downstairs, pounding their chests
tightly, fists on flesh, to the rhythm
of a prayer for the dead.

A woman stood and held a tray,
the edges of her chador clenched
in her teeth and wrapped so tightly
around her face that it cut angles
into her cheeks. She offered us
a silver tray of fruit as chanting
grew, beating grew, that fleshy
rhythm. And the woman
with dates walked the aisles
offering the shriveled skin
and its sweet stench on a silver tray,
making her way from one woman
to the next. Somewhere under
Iranian earth, seamless cloth lay
on its side, a turned face frozen
under a concrete canopy, legs bent
toward Mecca.She lowered the tray.
I reached for a date, and my mouth
watered to taste its sugar.

Reprinted with permission
from Puerto del Sol
Copyright © 1999
by Susan Atefat Peckham

by Susan Atefat Peckham

My one-breasted, crippled aunt wilts
in her wheelchair, her pale cheeks
and eyes grey, her one breast rolling
into her abdomen as if a tear.It seemed
I had just seen her heavy breasts float
to the surface of marbled bath water,
the soap swirling around two mounds
of flesh.She called me in to tell me
how they pushed a rifle into the folds
of her stomach because she crossed
a city street in Tehran. She floated,
big and naked in the tub, nestled
in a small Manhattan apartment, away
from stinking streets and old religion,
away from the traffic of Queens.

She always had her plate of food,
every night the same. Grandpa always
made sure she was fed and covered.
Mother tells stories of how she ran
to her house when she was a girl,
to hide behind her bed stand and stare
into the beaded turquoise in the silver,
stare into the silk weave of the rugs.

She leans on a brittle arm, her rib cage
twisted to a hook, belly sunk, no longer
the fertile round it once was. Lines
run hard from her nose to her chin,
her wrinkled hands lie like knots
on the silver handles, and she reminds
me in a broken voice how I offered
to gather flowers for her hair when she
once cried, but I said it wrong in Persian.

Once I went running and returned
in a sleeveless leotard, my body full
with womanhood and beaded sweat,
warm and wet, a man on her couch,
her company. And only her eyes
showed from the folds of her chador.
I hear her gasp from under the cloth.
Run and cover yourself! Run! Run!
Run!she said in the stern voice
of a whispering prophet.

Mornings I hear her pull herself along
a wall like old men and women tired
of time, pull herself into the bathroom,
out of the bathroom, over the porcelain
and into the washtub, over the porcelain
and onto the tiles, whispering the prayer
over and over, whispers, whispers,
The Great, The Compassionate,
The Powerful, for pity, for pity.

Reprinted with permission
from The Sycamore Review
Copyright © 1999
by Susan Atefat Peckham

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