Esther Kamkar Poetry Selection:

Poems of Hope and Despair

Click poem headings below to open and again to close each poem

Something Like Homesickness

I was the girl
who roamed the orchards
and perched on rooftops,
the girl who slept
under dwarf mulberry trees
and dug tunnels to reach
the Silk Road to China.
And here I have learned
the map of this city
by its fruit trees:
I picked olives in Mitchell Park
to cure in forty days,
I picked quince and persimmons
in a backyard on Georgia,
and the old fig tree
between two houses on Maybell
gave me all I needed.

On Mothers Day
I planted roses in my yard;
knowing they run their roots
deep and even deeper
in the times of drought.

And still the smells of pearly
summer dusks fill me
with something like homesickness.
No longer for a handful of dirt
or a piece of land to belong to,
but for the spirit of the girl I was.

The girl who wanted,
who imagined,
and who dug.
She was relentless.


Once I was a girl who dug tunnels to China.
Once I climbed a hill covered in black velvet.
Once I was a lion standing at the intersection waiting for the light to change.
Once I was lost in my own bed.
Once I was struck by lightning; the distance between my head and my heart shortened.
Once I made a necklace from my father's amber worry beads.
Once I believed in keeping the peace in the house at any price.
Once I was a corpse in my own bed.
Once I bought a watch with a loose, dancing 6.
Once my long hair crept under the windowsill and turned into a sunflower.
Once I shook for an hour.
Once I boiled a teaspoon of cinnamon in a cup of water to mask the odor in my house.
Once I clutched a bunch of yellow roses and leaped across a chasm.
Once I rummaged through a garbage can to find an envelope, I was insane.
Once I lived in the house of seamless floors and breathing carpets.
Once I was tethered to my life holding a baby in my arms, I was grateful.


If you know
the secret
of using
earth &
for making gold
for fixing the sun
in your own sky
so that it shines
and sheds light
upon your body

If you know
to make gold
is to cure
to heal yourself
then you are
an alchemist

I know a man
he turns his gold
into ashes

upon his body
the sun
does not

Writing to Picasso

Writing to Picasso was like sending
Messages in a bottle—he never answered,
His friend writes.
At night I dream of Dora Maar,
Picasso's companion, in her wheelchair
Making tracks on the paint-covered ground.
If I tell you my dream
Will you say:
Go back to sleep to dream more,
I want to know the rest?

In the middle of a rainy day
I correct dictation test #11.
Popping Microwave Popcorn
Zhen-Ni, the thirteen year
Old from Shanghai writes:
Papting Markwek Pong
I say the words again and again:
Popping Microwave Popcorn
Papting Markwek Pong
First with laughter, then with tears.
She wants to learn, listens well,
Can't hear the sounds of this new language.
The words of my languages are my sounds.
You can't hear them, even when you listen.
Talking to you is like sending
Messages in a bottle.

What if I told you
I want to be open and fearless
Like a bolt of silk rolling
Down a high rise window.
What would you say to that?
What would you do then?

In the Gold Country
I bought a fake-gold owl
Thought of the Golden Line,
Thought of whatever glitters is not gold,
The way my mother says the same thing.
Every walnut is round, but not every
Round thing is a walnut...
I saw purple lilacs and red clay...
The fields smelled sweet.
As I'm telling you my stories,
You slowly walk away.

In the khamsin year
The hot wind from the desert
Blew for fifty days.
We pulled down the shades.
Covered the tile floor with water
And stayed in.
In that dark, wet room.
The waves of heat go through
My body and linger under cloth and hair.
Come, sit with me on the bed.
Fan my face.
Braid my hair.

If I tell you the story about my
Father and the new moon
How he stared at the sliver of the moon
One moment, closed his eyes and
Opened them to look at a child's face.
One of us, one of his ten.
If I tell you taking the moon into
Himself and giving it to a child brought him
Good luck, month after month,
If I tell you all that...
Will you laugh with tenderness in your
Eyes and say:
You were loved so well, so well?

The Lost Parts

I smell my burnt hair
And remember Rosa

Clean sheets dried in the sunshine,
The breath of her young husband
Caraway, dandelions
Fields of Poland
All of it was Rousza's
All of it and maybe more.
Until the smoke filled her
With the smell of burnt flesh

His right hand quiet and folded
Like a sleeping dove,
I think of this boy in the wheelchair,
Speedy, the eloquent beggar of affections
Who says: I need a hand rub;
Who asks: Can I have a hug?

The way the sun shines on his whole body
Limitless and unrationed
Unlike love.

I rub my mother's feet
With almond oil and listen.
She tells me what she knows
From her dream where my father, Isaac
Sent her away from the bed saying
He had no patience and no desire for her.
Her death will not be from this accident,
She knows.
She believes him.
Who would believe me?
I thought of these words
In the middle of the earthquake:
"I am not afraid
to be loved
to be loved
to be loved."

Dandelion Lesson

I'm thankful for cheetahs
Thankful for my heart
Thankful my house is not in ashes

I'm tired:
I'm tired of being thankful
Counting my blessings
Against the baseline of

Tired of crawling
On the forest floor
Among these torsos

Tired of this ache behind my heart

Tired of my own longings
Wanting nothing
Wanting so much

I'm not afraid:
Not afraid of darkness
Not afraid of stench
Not afraid of smoke
Not afraid of razor blades
Cutting my heart into
A thousand red ribbons

Not afraid of seduction of
Amputated limbs

Common Dandelion
In your umbrella of aigrettes

Come closer
Teach me

Lifting from the ground
Flying a little

The Lion

Once a wild lion
Majestic and merciless
Leaped into my life.

The wild lion ate with me
And walked with me
It made the wild, wilder
It set my back on fire.

The wild lion sat with me
And dreamt with me
It made the soft, softer
It made my skin feel again.

This was a long time ago.
These days a lion appears
In my dreams, peering out of
The parking lot, or standing
At the intersection, waiting
For the lights to change.

Maybe for the sake
Of the children
I tamed the lion
Or maybe the lion left on its own
And now it visits me in my dreams
As patient as a companion

Disaster Drill

After dreaming Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass

Without feelings
And without sounds

We practice
The motions of survival

As if disasters were without
Terror, danger and chaos

As if survival were clean
Without grief, pain and loss.

We follow instructions.
We duck and cover.

We march into the field in hushed columns.
We search and rescue.

At the far end of the field
We hear the sounds of panic and wailing,

The bodies on the ground glisten
With broken glass and fresh blood,

The air fills with fruit flies
Rising from the rubble,

The sky is dark and we
Can’t even comfort one another