She began without nouns in Tehran. She woke before dawn to kneel, her head down to hear the day open. I’m going to the bathhouse, she told her father, and ran behind the unpaved streets to high school. She unlearnt the road signs to find the way back. Knew the story of each object in her house, their slogans, understood the bargain for words, sought silence for answers. She told fortunes with the Divan of Hafez, took a husband, a publisher of textbooks, went back to the high school to teach. She met us at the door, burning esfand, ghadameth ro cheshm (put your footstep on my eyes). She caught me hiding The Blind Owl and The Stray Dog in the cellar. She sent blankets and underwear to my sister in Evin prison. She felt the heat in the joints, grinding of her hips, the asymmetrical steps. She became ink.
She did not wear a heel lift. She did not build a garden, overthrow the government, or write a ghazal. She didn’t make it to the school where her father taught Persian to the shah. Didn’t choose her language, didn’t drive. She was no martyr; wove no silk carpet; bred no cats with large round black eyes. She knew no email, no cell phones.
She began with nouns in California. Her birthday swung on different branches of history, 1284, 1322, 2524, 1905. She sublet her days and forgave the orange orchards for leaving her behind. She unwound the alarm early, so the sun wouldn’t rise before her. She read Elementary English, spelt the objects in her daughter-in-law’s house over and over. She wrote in the margins of after. Saw the free words, sold everywhere. Her children fought over what she gave to whom and when. She heard the walker strike the ground: Something stands always before you. What are you going to do? Allah spoke to her in a tongue, she didn’t understand. She ate sugar-free chocolate ice cream, slept with a shortwave radio, read American news in Persian. She told my answering machine Let Kaveh know to come see me. She begins again in someone else.